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Cranberry makes area for 'sensitive' exchanges near municipal center

Tony LaRussa
| Sunday, Aug. 7, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
New signs at the Cranberry Municipal Building indicate it is the township's new exchange zone, Thursday August 4, 2016. The idea establishes a place outside the police station where divorced parents can exchange custody or where people can meet for online purchase transactions.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
New signs at the Cranberry Municipal Building indicate it is the township's new exchange zone, Thursday August 4, 2016. The idea establishes a place outside the police station where divorced parents can exchange custody or where people can meet for online purchase transactions.

Cranberry residents who need to do a custody exchange with a former spouse or meet up with a stranger to buy or sell something listed in a classified ad or on a community bulletin board now have an official place to conduct business.

The township has set aside two parking spaces next to the Cranberry Township Municipal Center for people to conduct what officials call “sensitive face-to-face transactions.”Even before the township created a safe exchange zone with bright lighting and video surveillance, concerned residents used the parking as a meeting place, according to officials.

“For years people have used the municipal building parking lot to arrange meetings because they felt it was safer than doing it at home or some other location,” said Jerry Andree, township manager. “When we started seeing other communities set up safe exchange zones we thought it might be good to offer it here. The brighter lighting and the fact that the meetings are recorded gives people another layer of safety.”

Cranberry police Sgt. Chuck Mascellino noted that even though people are meeting near a police station doesn't necessarily mean no danger exists.

“This is another tool for people to use, but they still need to use common sense and be cautious when they are meeting someone they don't know or if there are concerns about a custody exchange,” he said.

Mascellino noted that while the video camera set up in Cranberry's safe exchange zone records what occurs, it is not monitored by police.

“The camera essentially provides us with a way to help investigate after the fact if something happens,” the sergeant said.

In the past several years, law enforcement agencies around the country began setting up safe exchange zones in response to the growing number of incidents involving people being robbed, assaulted and even killed after meeting strangers to buy or sell items listed on public bulletin boards.

One such case occurred in May 2015 when a 19-year-old college student was shot to death in a St. Louis, Mo., suburb after meeting a man who wanted to buy the sports car he listed for sale on Craigslist.

Several communities in Western Pennsylvania have recently created safe exchange zones for residents.

In March, South Fayette designated an area in front of its police station that is monitored by video after a resident posted a comment on Facebook saying the township should have an exchange zone like the one in nearby Peters, Washington County, which was set up a year earlier.

A South Fayette commissioner noticed the post and forwarded the suggestion to the township manager.

O'Hara Council in April approved designating two spaces in the municipal building parking lot as an Internet exchange area.

In April, Ross police Chief Joseph Ley included the creation of an “Internet purchase safety zone” as one of half a dozen goals he set for the police department over the next two years.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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