By Srianthi Perera

Gilbert will soon join other Valley cities to offer Safe Exchange Zones within police station premises.

Gilbert Leadership, an annual program of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is constructing two Safe Exchange Zones in Gilbert within the premises of two police complexes: at Gilbert Police and Fire Headquarters at 75 E. Civic Center Drive and Gilbert Police San Tan Station in the northwest corner of Greenfield and Queen Creek roads.

Both will be open to the public on April 8.

Most people purchase goods online and meet the seller in a gas station or Walmart parking lot to finalize the deal without thinking twice about personal safety.

But what if that person comes armed with a gun and demands all the cash you have in your wallet or take your money and walk away without giving the goods?

Another instance is child custody exchanges, which are sometimes wrought with emotion; where’s a suitable place to hand over a child?

Shannon Powell, member of Gilbert Leadership’s Class XXVI, said that the class selected police stations because of the public safety officials’ constant presence.

“Basically, there’s just a feeling of a safe place that they can go so they’re not meeting at somebody’s house and they are not meeting in a convenience store and there’s a feeling of more safety,” she said.

The exchange zones will be in the police complex within sight of the main entrance and consist of a concrete table and seating, signage and some landscaping around the space.

The 24 members of the class plan to donate about 300 hours of labor to install the project on Saturday, April 7; it has also raised the $5,000 necessary, Powell said.

The exchanges – of goods or children – will be done in a well-lit environment and under the watchful eye of 24-hour digital surveillance.

Recently, Gilbert resident Kevin Gray shared his experience with Gilbert Leadership about being robbed at gun point from inside his vehicle last December.

“I’ve replayed this scenario multiple times in the last few weeks and I believe that if the scenario had taken place in a designated “exchange zone” at a police station, where there is surveillance and officers ready to step in if need be, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Life is too short to put yourself in funny situations, especially for a few hundred dollars.”

Safe Exchange Zones are being established in cities throughout the country and in Arizona. In 2015, ASU Police Department set one up in its lobby in Tempe, and three other Tempe stations have also been designated for safe exchanges.

Earlier this year, Mesa designated five of its police stations as public spaces for safely exchanging online purchases.

“I think there’s a need for this just to ensure safety because it’s such a common practice now for us to buy and sell from strangers,” Powell said. “I think this is a great opportunity that we’re adding to Gilbert.