EAST CHICAGO | The East Chicago Police Department is opening its building and parking lot to residents meeting with strangers to sell or buy items.
East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker said the new initiative, dubbed Operation Safe Sale, is meant to curb the number of assaults and robberies stemming from transactions with strangers.
Becker said residents can request to have an officer present during the transaction, or they can conduct their business in the department's lobby or parking lot. He said the building and parking lot is well-lit and has several surveillance cameras.
Becker said Officer William Jansky thought of the idea after reading about incidents across the country where people were robbed or assaulted while meeting with strangers to buy or sell an item.
A few weeks ago, a woman in East Chicago reported being robbed after meeting with a stranger she met online about purchasing a car.
Last week, a couple were robbed at gunpoint by three suspects while they were in the 300 block of Mount Street in Gary to buy a car, according to police reports.
The initiative, which starts immediately, also is open to non-E.C. residents, Becker said. Officers will be available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday to oversee the transactions. On Saturdays, officers will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Becker said if a buyer or seller is hesitant to meet at the police station, it could raise a red flag for residents.
"What bad guy wants to come to the police department?" Becker said. "Why would someone bring a stolen gun or a stolen bike? They aren't going to do that."
Becker said residents can make an appointment ahead of time, but are welcome to use the parking lot and lobby without an officer present during all hours.
"I'm really excited about it," he said. "I feel kind of foolish that we didn't think about it before. It's another way for us to engage the community."