Video monitoring provides peace of mind
Meeting the stranger you bought that concert ticket from on the internet can be scary. So can a tense interaction with an ex-spouse when it’s time to return a child from visitation.
That’s why Groves Police Department has joined a growing number of municipalities around the nation designating part of the station’s parking lot as a safe place to exchange goods purchased on the internet and make custody exchanges.
“People have always used our parking lot to trade custody, but I thought it would be a good idea to designate it and let online buyers and sellers know that they’re welcome, too,” Groves police Marshal Norman Reynolds said Tuesday.
He said the idea to formalize the designation came about four years ago. Additional security was put in place. Cameras now trained on the specified exchange spot provide coverage from multiple angles and provide 24-hour-a-day recording every day of the week.
A sign was erected two weeks ago designating the area as well as a brief description of its purpose. When Reynolds posted a photo of the sign on Facebook, the response was overwhelming.
“It’s just incredible,” he said. “Last time I checked it had more than 2,200 shares and 9,000 responses — just a lot of good feedback.”
Commenters like Kasey Jordan Cowling and Becky Boorman Brown lauded Groves police. “Every city should do this,” added Linsey Sappington.
Such safe places have become more common.
“We have people who swap kids regularly,” Lumberton police Chief Danny Sullins said. “We don’t have a designated area, but we definitely encourage it. It’s a smart deal to have a space for it and we may be looking into something like that for our department.”
Reynolds said spaces like this have been around for custody exchanges for years. With the increased prevalence of online shopping and exchanges, he and others have found it wise to include those as well.
“It’s actually amazing how often our parking lot is used,” Vidor police Chief Rod Carroll said. “We can’t go to every custody exchange, so people feel better about doing it here on video where dispatch is watching, and now we’re seeing younger people coming to sell goods.”
Reynolds said a lot of what they are seeing exchanged are expensive items such as smartphones, laptops and concert tickets — things he said are often involved in scams. Luckily, Groves hasn’t seen some of the more severe scams, but the threat is real. The goal of these safe places are to reduce the likelihood of theft.
Just last week, two Mid-County teens were robbed at gunpoint in Beaumont near the fairgrounds while trying to sell an Xbox system. The thief also stole their Jeep, though it was recovered after a chase and crash, Carroll said.
“If someone doesn’t want to meet you at a police station, they are up to no good,” Carroll said, adding, “And if a deal is too good to be true, it’s not real.”
Beaumont police spokeswoman Carol Riley said Beaumont sees scams and theft from internet ruses all the time.
“We see all sorts of scams from Facebook and phone calls. Some people even pretend to be police,” Riley said. “And now with the holidays people are shopping more and they need a safe place to meet.”
“It’s about making people feel comfortable and safe,” said Reynolds.
Riley said custody exchanges can be more tense than usual this time of year. Again, the added security of the police station may prevent some unwanted confrontation.
“It can be hard to share kids during the holidays, because parents want that time with their child,” Riley said. “Even if there is a court order or a previous agreement, there is still tension, so it’s important to do these exchanges in a visible place.”
Groves may have the only sign at their station, but Beaumont and Vidor strongly encourage shoppers and guardians to take advantage of the safety of the police station.
“People should also try to meet while it’s still light out,” Reynolds said. “It’s much safer.”