Recent Robbery a Reminder to Use Exchange Zones

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Recent Robbery a Reminder to Use Exchange Zones for In-Person Transactions
A recent robbery in Columbia Heights highlights the need to be cautious when buying or selling items with people you’ve met online.

Rather than meet up at an unfamiliar location, residents are encouraged to use the Columbia Heights Police Department’s designated exchange zone in its parking lot.

Meeting in a safe place will help you avoid getting into a situation like this:

On May 16, a man agreed to meet at an unfamiliar residential location at the 4000 block of Main Street NE at around 6:30 pm to buy a smart phone from someone he met on the classified site Letgo.

Upon arriving at the agreed upon location, the man was attacked by two assailants and robbed of his money and personal items and left with a broken nose.

Following the attack, the Columbia Heights Police Department and Anoka County Sheriff's Office used video surveillance footage to identify the assailants’ vehicle. The vehicle information was used to narrow down potential suspects.Exchange Zone Facebook

Officers then discovered that the scam ad that had been used to lure the victim was still online. To set up the suspects, detectives responded to the ad as if they were interested in buying the phone. 

The “seller” requested to meet in Lomianki Park at 80 39th Ave NE in Columbia Heights. Two previously identified suspects were already waiting at the location when officers arrived. When a detective from the Sheriff’s Office approached them, they indicated that they had the phone.

The detective and back-up officers immediately arrested the suspects--Marcus Monteze Western, of Columbia Heights, and Johnathan Jabari Johnson, of Fridley, both 18 years old--and found that one of them had a pellet pistol in his waistband.

Both suspects have since been formally charged with simple robbery and felony assault in the third degree.

Don't Let this Happen To You: Use Exchange Zones
Both the CHPD and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, as well as many other law enforcement agencies, provide designated exchange zone areas at their facilities. These exchange zones are under 24-hour video surveillance.

While these zones cannot provide absolute protection, the idea of meeting under video surveillance while next to a law enforcement agency can deter a would-be robber from committing the crime.

“We strongly encourage everyone using these online websites to make their transactions at a law enforcement exchange zone, because this small step will negate most criminal opportunities,” said Columbia Heights Police Chief Lenny Austin.

If the transaction is during normal business hours, people can also meet inside the lobby of the Public Safety building.

If you must meet an unknown seller or buyer in a residential area, do not go by yourself. 

The Columbia Heights Public Safety building is located at 825 41st Avenue NE.