Making Porch Pirates Walk the Plank

This article is republished with permission from our friends at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

Steven MalangaThe Philadelphia Inquirer January 8, 2019

Revenge may be best served cold, but when a former NASA engineer concocted a device to retaliate against thieves snatching packages off his porch, the video showing the crooks getting doused with tinsel from a glitter bomb and squirted with Fart Spray (yes, that’s a real thing) became hot on YouTube, garnering more than 50 million views in the weeks before Christmas. There’s little mystery why. Thieves dubbed “porch pirates” have become increasingly common in the Age of Amazon, lurking in neighborhoods to steal recently delivered packages off front porches. Millions of Americans have already been victimized, sales of doorbell cameras and other video-surveillance devices are soaring, and local cops are running stings to stem the epidemic. Now, after the post-Christmas rush, some lawmakers are even contemplating new legislation that would single out and harshly punish the doorway bandits, in part because home merchandise delivery now encompasses far more than just gift packages—it also includes essential goods for the elderly and infirm.

Exact figures on porch pirating aren’t available because many people don’t bother reporting it, especially since Amazon and some other online merchants will often refund money for a stolen item. But a survey by packaging company Schorr found that about one-third of respondents claim to have been victimized. Another study estimated that 26 million Americans have had packages stolen. Over the last few years, package pilfering has gone from a crime of opportunity, in which someone who happens to spot an unattended item on a porch on a lonely street grabs it and runs, to an organized activity. Today, thieves trail UPS and FedEx trucks, then snatch up gifts left unattended. One San Antonio case was an inside job: one of the accomplices arrested was a UPS worker. In another shocking case, on Halloween, a Sacramento woman brought her kids along, in costume, as she snatched packages. In some cases, cops, using search warrants, have found dozens of parcels in the homes or vehicles of those apprehended for heists. A report earlier this year by Safewise, a home security system, listed Austin, Salt Lake City, Miami, and Atlanta as cities where residents were most likely to get a package snatched.

Continue reading the entire piece here at The Philadelphia Inquirer


Steven Malanga is the George M. Yeager Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a senior editor at City Journal.  A version of this piece originally appeared in City Journal. Photo by iStock