Daly City approves creation of safe exchange zone

Daly City recently approved a designated “Internet safe sale exchange zone” in front of the police station to facilitate safer transactions. (Courtesy David Canepa)

There’s officially a safe space in Daly City for those buying or selling products online to meet in person.

Daly City last week became the latest U.S. city to implement an “Internet safe sale exchange zone,” which aims to facilitate safer transactions for residents buying or selling items listed on websites like Craigslist.

Spearheaded by Vice Mayor David Canepa and approved with a unanimous City Council vote in May, the effort transformed two parking spots directly in front of Daly City’s police station into an area highlighted with special turquoise paint, along with a sign designating them as an exchange zone under 24-hour video surveillance.

While the city cannot guarantee buyers or sellers won’t become victims of crime or fraud as a result of their transactions, the video monitoring and nearby police presence are meant to provide a safer alternative to meeting a stranger in their home or an unfamiliar location.

In-person transactions gone wrong can have tragic consequences.

Ikenna Uwakah, a Daly City resident, was shot to death Dec. 21, 2013, after he and his girlfriend Rachael Pecota agreed to meet Ronnie Collins to sell a Sony Playstation 4 video game console, which they had advertised on Instagram.

Collins’ attorney claimed the shooting was an act of self-defense, and on April 6, a San Francisco Superior Court judge declared a mistrial in the case after jurors were split 6-6 on whether to render a guilty verdict. Prosecutors said they would refile the charges and pursue a new trial.

In another case with a Daly City connection, Pierce County, Wash., resident James Sanders was shot to death in his home on April 28, 2010, after he and his wife Charlene advertised a diamond ring on Craigslist. That led to the couple allowing Amanda Knight and Kiyoshi Higashi into their home after Knight responded to the Craigslist ad.

The situation quickly escalated into a home-invasion robbery, with two additional accomplices, Joshua Reese and Clabon Berniard, entering the home and terrorizing the couple and their two sons. Higashi reportedly shot Sanders to death as he tried to defend his family.

Daly City police Sgt. Ed Klier stopped the three for a traffic violation on Geneva Avenue in Daly City, found drugs in their car and arrested them.

Klier speculated Reese, Knight and Higashi had taken a road trip to the Bay Area “to avoid the heat” generated by the killing.

Klier said a clerk at the County Jail then noticed the three matched a description of suspects sought in the Sanders murder. All four accomplices were eventually convicted on multiple charges related to Sanders’ death and are serving sentences ranging from 71 to 124 years in prison.

“Any time you’re dealing with someone who’s not known to you, and you’re dealing with goods and money, you need to consider the possibility things could go wrong,” Klier said.

High-profile cases notwithstanding, robberies and violent crimes related to internet transactions appear to be somewhat rare. But authorities say precise statistics are hard to come by because police records don’t separate those crimes into their own category.

That’s the word from San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sal Zuno, who said his agency advises people conducting such transactions to meet in public, during daylight hours and to bring a partner.

Zuno also recommends transferring money via services like PayPal, which might offer some buyer protection because police generally can’t get involved in transaction-related disputes.

“Some people might say, ‘This rare coin you sold me isn’t authentic, I’m calling the police,’ but we can’t get involved in civil matters,” Zuno noted. “This is a personal business transaction you’re conducting.”

Like the Sheriff’s Office, San Mateo County Assistant District Attorney Morley Pitt said his department does not have specific statistics on crimes related to internet transactions.

“We see a handful of those types of cases, maybe five to 10 per year,” Pitt said.

Canepa noted Daly City’s new safe exchange zone is not just for Daly City residents and expressed the hope that people from neighboring towns would use the facility.

Craigslist representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

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