The delight over finding a bargain in local online classified ads brings with it the need to carefully answer an important question: Where should the buyer and seller meet?

The end of the negotiation process, often conducted by e-mail with a stranger, usually requires a face-to-face transaction in which payment is made and the item is handed over to its new owner. A priority is finding a place in which both feel safe. Sure, the person selling or buying a vintage Hamm’s Beer bear decanter isn’t likely to be a threat. But it always pays to use extra caution, especially when high-profile crimes have taken place in the Twin Cities and elsewhere during these transactions.

That’s why Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek’s new “Swap Spot” initiative merits praise and wide use.

Stanek announced recently that the lobbies of three Sheriff’s Office facilities are available during regular weekday business hours for the public to complete online purchases or trades. Although deputies won’t be deployed to monitor every transaction, the lobbies are definitely an improvement over the locations that many people currently use.

Store or restaurant parking lots are common meeting places, but they can be isolated, especially after dark or when the business is closed. In contrast, the presence of law enforcement on the premises likely would have a powerful deterrent effect on less-savory characters.

Other law enforcement agencies also have worked hard to encourage safety in online purchasing. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, for example, has long done outreach in the community to help people avoid danger and not get ripped off during online transactions.

The new Swap Spot program builds on that good work. More Swap Spots are needed around the region, and the public should take advantage of them as their numbers grow.

For more information on Swap Spots, go to