'Safe Sales': Manatee Sheriff's Office offering security for Internet deals

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff's Office is offering what it calls a safer way to close transactions of items bought and sold over the Internet.

Two parking spots in front of the sheriff's Operations Center, 600 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton, have been designated Safe Sale spaces with parking spots painted in blue as part of a crime prevention program, Operating Safe Sale.

"It's not like we have had a problem with people meeting other people, but obviously the potential was there," sheriff's office spokesman Dave Bristow said. "So why not create an environment that is safe?"

The idea came from Hillsborough and other agencies that have started similar programs, according to Bristow.

The parking lot is well-lighted and monitored by cameras, and deputies are constantly coming in and out.

"We invite people to start to using the spaces immediately," Bristow said.

The measure is meant to be preventative, but Bristow could not say how many Internet deals have gone wrong in Manatee County.

"I am sure we have had some incidents, but it is not a major problem," Bristow said. "I'm sure we also have some incidents that are never reported."

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced its "Operation Safe Sale" in May. Its program offers parking lots at each of its four district stations for residents to make transactions arranged online.

Hillsborough's program was created in response to safety threats for those engaging in cash transactions involving items advertised online or in other classified ads, according to a news release.

"While there has not been any recent increase in these types of robberies, there continues to be a sustained amount throughout the county," the release stated.

The parking lots have been often used for parental exchange of children involved in custody disputes, so it made sense to add this use, the release added.

Since its implementation, the captains of each district have not been able to determine if people are using the parking lots for these transactions, but they are not having any issues, according to Hillsborough spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

For more information, call the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention unit at 941-747-3011, ext. 2500.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.