Sheriff’s Office to create exchange zones
Summit County residents will soon be encouraged to use arguably one of the safest spots in the community to conduct transactions: the Summit County Sheriff’s Office parking lot.
This week, the Sheriff’s Office plans to create an exchange zone for citizens to conduct private property and custody transactions in the roundabout area directly in front of the Sheriff’s Office, located at 6300 Justice Center Road. The area, which will be under 24-hour video surveillance, will be labeled with signs and painted blue.
The department is taking a cue from other law enforcement agencies throughout the state that have already implemented similar safety zones, according to Sheriff Justin Martinez.
"We have actually had this in the works for over a few months," Martinez said. "I remember hearing something similar to this awhile back and, I don’t remember which agency it was, but I went to the undersheriff and said, ‘we have to institute something along these lines."
Martinez said the motivation behind creating the exchange zone is to help facilitate child custody exchanges, while not taking deputies out of rotation. The Sheriff’s Office estimates it handles approximately 100 requests a year for assistance with child custody exchanges.
"That was more of it than anything," Martinez said. "There are a lot of parents out there who have joint custody and they just cannot get along. They may have to meet under guided circumstances and we thought this could be a way to make this fair for everyone."
The exchange zones will also be a place for people to conduct transactions for purchases made online through websites such as Craigslist, Martinez said. He added that he is not aware of any specific incidents in Summit County involving online scams, however, "we just want to provide a safe place to do those types of exchanges." He said he hopes the location will be enough of a deterrent to prevent fraud.
"Even the no-shows are a win for us," Martinez said. "This is just one of our really creative ways to keep the public safe."
Residents interested in using the exchange zone will not be required to contact dispatch ahead of time and the Sheriff’s Office emphasized that county employees cannot act as official witnesses, give legal advice or settle civil disputes. County employees are also not responsible for the "value, authenticity or legitimacy" of the transactions.
The video from surveillance will remain on file for 50 days and could potentially be accessed through a subpoena or government records request. The Sheriff’s Office also mentioned that a deputy’s presence may be requested if someone believes the exchange warrants it.
"It’s a way that we can bring people here, we can provide security and not affect what we are doing on the street," said Frank Smith, Summit County undersheriff. "If you are someone who is going to rob someone, you are not going to do it in front of the Sheriff’s Office under video, we hope."
‘Times change and little things like this can really help a community’
The Sandy City Police Department is also one of several law enforcement agencies in Utah that has implemented an area for safe exchanges. The department created the E-Commerce Exchange Zone in 2015.
Capt. Justin Chapman said the department doesn’t track how many of its citizens use it. However, he said has seen several people use it over the last year.
"It’s right in front of our conference room and I’ve seen a lot of exchanges," Chapman said. "It’s just there to make sure we are offering a safe place directly in front of our department. Someone that is shady is probably less likely to show up here."
Chapman said the idea came from a City Council member who had visited his son in Texas and the city had a similar exchange zone. He said the council member pursued the idea as a way to facilitate property transactions.
Chapman admitted that he has taken advantage of the space and used it to meet someone to make a purchase.
"I was looking for an iPhone and I found one from this guy who lived in Bountiful and told him to meet me here," Chapman said referring to the police department. "When he showed up he goes, ‘oh good, you’re a cop.’ He even made the comment that he thought it was pretty cool that we had this available because he has his wife with him and his child in the backseat of the car.
"So even from my firsthand experience I’m really glad we have it," Chapman said. "Times change and little things like this can really help a community out, even if it’s just saving a couple of people from being victimized."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.