Lawrence Township officials planning to establish safe exchange zone

Lawrence Township is joining the growing list of towns that provide a safe space where residents can complete transactions that began online or in other marketplaces, under an ordinance introduced by the Township Council last week.

The location known as the safe exchange zone will be in the area of the parking lot between the municipal building and the police/municipal court building, according to the ordinance. It has been set aside for township residents to complete in-person, private transactions.

There are some exceptions to the goods that may be purchased, sold or exchanged. The sale or purchase of a car or truck, weapons, illegal contraband, alcohol and anything that will not fit inside a 10-foot by 10-foot parking space will not be permitted.

While the township will not provide police officers or other municipal employees to witness the transactions, each transaction may be recorded by the police department’s surveillance cameras.

The proximity of police officers and the video surveillance system is intended to provide a safe place to conduct business, and “to increase the public’s peace of mind when engaging in such transactions with unfamiliar individuals within the safe exchange zone,” according to the ordinance.

The ordinance states that Lawrence Township “makes no guarantees, assurances or promises as to the safety or security of any in-person transactions” that occur in Lawrence, or to the availability of the parking lot at any specific time.

The ordinance encourages residents to meet during daylight hours and to carry a cell phone in case of an emergency. Friends and family members should be notified of one’s intention to meet another person to carry out a transaction.

It also warns against inviting strangers to one’s home or agreeing to meet at the stranger’s home. If anyone refuses to conduct business in the safe exchange zone, the transaction should be reconsidered, the ordinance states.

In addition to Lawrence Township’s proposed safe exchange zone, the Princeton Police Department, the Bordentown Township Police Department, the Robbinsville Township Police Department and the South Brunswick Township Police Department offer similar safe havens for the exchange of goods.