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Concerned about robberies, scams and killings tied to purchases arranged through Craigslist and other online marketplaces, police and sheriff’s departments nationwide are carving out areas of their stations for people to complete transactions.

At least 70 departments in the U.S., from Boca Raton, Fla., to Bedford, Texas, have created such zones, usually in parking lots or lobbies, according to websites that track the programs.

Though the trend began several years ago, it has taken off in recent months, authorities say.

The areas, sometimes dubbed “safe zones” or “safe havens,” deter criminals by virtue of their location on law-enforcement property that is under constant video surveillance, supporters say. Skeptics, however, are concerned that departments are opening themselves to liability if a transaction goes awry.

Officials in participating cities say they felt compelled to act because of problems in their jurisdictions or high-profile murders elsewhere.

According to media reports compiled by AIM Group, a classified-ad consultancy based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., 87 killings tied to Craigslist interactions have occurred in the U.S. since 2007, including 22 last year and six so far this year.

AIM Group has done research in the past on Craigslist-related crimes for a competitor of the website, and founder Peter Zollman has criticized the company for not doing more to promote security for users.

Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s chief executive, has accused AIM Group of unjustly portraying the website as fraught with risk for criminal activity.

Craigslist didn’t respond to requests for comment, but the “Personal Safety” page on its website reads: “With billions of human interactions facilitated, the incidence of violent crime is extremely low.” Among several precautions the company suggests is to “consider making high-value exchanges at your local police station.”

In Whitestown, Ind., city leaders became alarmed after the 2013 robbery and killing of an Indianapolis man responding to a Craigslist ad listing an iPad for sale, said town manager Dax Norton. “What really put it over the edge,” he said, were the January robbery and killings of a Georgia couple seeking to buy a car through Craigslist.

In February, Whitestown officials made the lobby and parking lot of the municipal complex available for people to complete online sales. They also offered to make police officers available at transactions or to check vehicle identification numbers of cars to ensure they aren’t stolen.

The areas, whether in police lobbies or parking lots, where the transactions take place usually are under video surveillance. In the case of station lobbies, personnel typically are present, but not specifically tasked with overseeing the interactions. The safe havens inside buildings generally are open only during office hours, but no reservations are required. Parking lots mostly are available 24/7.

“It has gone well beyond our expectations,” Mr. Norton said, with transactions occurring at the facility almost daily.

Officials in some cities, however, have expressed unease about such arrangements.

When the Miami-Dade County commission in Florida discussed a resolution in February directing the mayor to examine the feasibility of setting up safe havens, Commissioner Barbara Jordan raised the liability issue. “Do we want to take on that responsibility?” she asked. “We’re opening up Pandora’s box.”

Commissioner Sally Heyman, who sponsored the resolution, said in an interview that police departments don’t have liability because they’re not engaging in any transaction. They are merely making a public venue available for buyers and sellers, she said.

The resolution passed, and several police departments in the county already allow transactions at their stations.

In Adams County, Colo., the sheriff’s office addressed liability concerns for its program, which began in January, by barring staff from overseeing sales, said Sheriff Michael McIntosh.

The police department in Bedford, Texas, which designated an area for transactions in April, dubbed it an “exchange zone” rather than a “safe zone” to avoid suggesting there was no risk involved, said technical services manager Kelli Agan.
One supporter of such programs is Derek Lee, a 43-year-old Craigslist user in an Atlanta suburb. He said news reports about people getting murdered after connecting online prompted him to start requiring that any Craigslist transaction he is involved with takes place at a police station.

That “is your ultimate safety zone,” he said. “It’s not just personal safety. I think people are less likely to rip each other off, like selling a bogus product or counterfeit product.”

Law-enforcement officials said it is too early to determine whether the zones are reducing crime, but some contend initial results are promising.

In Coral Springs, Fla., where a proposed Craigslist sale resulted in a murder last year, police have had no robberies or incidents related to online marketplaces since the police department made its parking lot available for transactions in February. “Better safe than sorry,” the department wrote on its Facebook page. “Legitimate buyers and sellers will have no issue meeting you” at the station.