Harris County

Houston law enforcement agency providing safe meet-up spaces for holiday shoppers

Buyers and sellers from online marketplaces can utilize a “Holiday Safety Exchange Zone” at the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office.

Precinct 1 Constable Present Purchase Safe Zone
Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office is providing designated areas during the holiday season where online buyers and sellers can meet to exchange goods.

Online marketplaces such as Craigslist and Facebook, where users purchase goods from each other as opposed to retail stores, can help holiday shoppers save time and money.

They also can lead to costly and even dangerous encounters, especially if in-person interaction between strangers is involved.

Houston-area residents looking for a safe place to meet with online buyers or sellers can take advantage of a program offered by the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, which on Monday opened a “Holiday Safety Exchange Zone” at both its downtown location at 1302 Preston St. as well as its office at 7300 N. Shepherd Dr. Both sites have designated areas available from 1-3 p.m. Monday through Friday, with deputies on hand to monitor transactions.

“Meeting in a public place is recommended whenever you do online transactions and do transactions with people you don’t necessarily know,” said Angelique Myers, a spokesperson for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen. “Community members can use it as a crime deterrent to kind of weed out some of the folks that want to cause harm or do a fraudulent transaction. If you are meeting in a courthouse or police department or county office, you’re less likely to be involved in anything fraudulent or scam-related.”

No appointments are needed to utilize the designated spaces, according to Myers, who said residents can use the constable’s offices as meeting places throughout their normal business hours, which are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Although deputies will not be assigned to an exchange zone outside of the scheduled two-hour window each weekday, Myers said the buildings are equipped with security cameras and have a law enforcement presence throughout the day.

The designated transaction areas will be marked by signs reading “Present Purchase Safe Zone,” according to Myers, who said the constable’s office will staff those zones through Dec. 23.

“It’s a free service,” Myers said. “It's an opportunity for the public to complete these transactions in a more safe environment.”

The constable’s office said in a news release that it “does not endorse or criticize” transactions made online or through social media and is “not responsible for the validity of transactions” and “will not be involved in the business conducted amongst participating parties.” Deputies will be on hand to maintain order in the event of a dispute.

Myers said the constable’s office first implemented the exchange zone program during the holiday season in 2018. She said she got the idea from the Round Rock Police Department, which serves an area north of Austin, and suggested to Rosen that the same thing could be done in Houston.

“It’s been successful the previous years, so we have continued to do that,” Myers said. “We hope the community will utilize our space.”

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