Berlin Police Details Safe Haven Program Concept

BERLIN — With the proliferation of online-arranged sales of various items along with a spike in child custody-related incidents, the Berlin Police Department is taking a proactive stance in making its headquarters a safe haven.

Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing this week explained the safe haven concept at his department’s headquarters just off Route 113. The concept is essentially two-pronged with the Berlin Police Department (BPD) providing a safe, well-lit environment for sales and transactions of items pre-arranged through social media marketing platforms.

Downing explained sometimes a potential seller meets a potential buyer at the appointed place and time, maybe a shopping center parking lot or a semi-public area, or even at the buyer’s home. He said there have been incidents recently in Berlin where a buyer, or even a seller, has the property stolen with no money exchange, or even worse in some cases.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve had a couple of cases involving theft where an individual selling an item meets with the other party and has the item they are selling stolen and no money being exchanged,” he said. “This has been a big thing around the country. We’ve had at least two situations in Berlin.”

For that reason, Downing explained the BPD has been designated as a safe haven for those types of transactions in which the parties do not know each other.

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“We’re telling folks not to go to unlit, lightly populated areas to make these transactions,” he said. “We’re also telling them not to go to strangers’ homes to buy and sell items if they are not familiar with the other party.”

Downing said making pre-arranged transactions through social media platforms is simply safer at the BPD. If one of the parties objects, it’s likely a red flag.

“We’re advising folks to come to the Berlin Police Department to make these exchanges,” he said. “They can come inside where it’s warm and there are officers around. It’s well-lit. We have 17 cameras around the building. It’s just a safer situation for all involved. It’s just a safe place to do exchanges.”

Downing said the BPD is aware of the proliferation of sales of items arranged online and the potential for danger.

“We know what the different social media platforms folks are using to buy and sell items,” he said. “People are getting jumped when they go to make a transaction in an unlit area like a corner of a shopping center parking lot, for example. Sometimes, the transaction is thousands of dollars and sometimes it is as little as $50.”

Downing explained the second prong of his department’s safe haven program involved child custody cases. In cases of shared custody arrangements, where one parent or guardian has custody of a child on certain days or certain times of day, one of the parties might not always follow the agreement, particularly around the holidays.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a big increase in custody cases,” he said. “It’s typical around the holidays where one or both of the parents or guardians don’t want to make exchanges for a variety of reasons.”

Downing said arranging custody exchanges at the police department is safer for all involved.

“We want to advise folks that the Berlin Police Department is a safe haven for custody exchanges,” he said. “A mom might say I want to come into the police department and wait inside for my husband or boyfriend or whomever to drop off my child. It’s just a safer situation. We want to avoid situations where someone, including a child, could be put in harm’s way. We have seen murder-suicide cases in Baltimore in the last couple of weeks involving custody issues.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.