Holiday crime ‘wraps’ up for season

Neighbors share images of individuals who allegedly stole packages, decorations off porches

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As Santa Claus rode around town in his sleigh delivering presents to those who celebrated Christmas this week, “porch pirates”– individuals who steal unattended packages off of victims’s porches– also rode throughout neighborhoods such as Los Cerritos, Wrigley, Bixby Knolls and areas of Signal Hill.

According to a few posts on neighborhood social-media network NextDoor, residents shared captured photographs and video of suspects they allege stole delivered packages from their doorsteps. One individual posted a photograph of their Christmas decorations and declared that some were stolen, as well.

In the comment section of these posts, other residents gave tips on how to tie down decorations and shared information on possible porch-pirate suspects.

Dionicio Hernandez, a UPS public-relations specialist, wrote in an email interview with the Signal Tribune Dec. 27 that, while home-security technology such as cameras, have exposed instances of package theft more in recent years, a very small percentage of packages shipped in the U.S. are actually stolen.

The Signal Tribune reached out to members of the Signal Hill and Long Beach police departments (SHPD, LBPD) to better understand the behaviors of porch pirates and other petty-theft criminals.

Historically, there continues to be a rise in mail thefts during the holiday season, according to a spokesperson from the LBPD burglary detail.

When officers file crime reports, such as “porch-pirate” thefts, they either file them as petty thefts or grand thefts depending on the value of the loss. Currently, there is no separate penal-code section for that method of operation to track for statistical purposes, the spokesperson wrote to the Signal Tribune via email Dec. 27.

SHPD Sgt. Kelli Brown told the Signal Tribune during a phone interview Dec. 20 that a common practice porch pirates do is follow UPS, FedEx and other delivery trucks throughout the neighborhood and proceed to steal the packages they drop off.

“A common trend with package theft– and I’ve seen this in the news, too– is they follow the truck that drops off the package,” she said.

The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce announced last month that an estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the third quarter of 2018, adjusted for seasonal variation, but not for price changes, was $130.9 billion, an increase of 3.1 percent from the second quarter of 2018.

Despite data showing that Americans are buying more items online, both SHPD and LBPD could not easily identify how many online-purchased items were stolen from their porches.

During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Dec. 20, an analyst with the LBPD burglary detail said that a stolen package and a stolen wallet, for example, fall under the same category of its database and that identifying what exactly was stolen would require staff to manually analyze each theft call the department receives.

Courtesy U.S. Census Bureau Department of Commerce
The graph pictured above shows the estimated increment of online shopping sales during the first quarter of each year in the United States since 2009. Purchasing items online accounted for nearly 9 percent of retail sales in the first quarter of 2018. On social-media platforms, residents in Long Beach have posted various photos of suspects who allegedly stole delivered Amazon and other online-store packages off their porches.

Brown shared a similar scenario about keeping track of stolen Amazon or other online-store packages.

“It’s hard to identify what kind of theft it is,” Brown said. “You’d have to hand-look through each individual petty theft to look at what the item was that was taken. From a mail-theft standpoint– different crime section– it’s a federal crime to go into someone’s mailbox and pull something up. That is why it is recorded differently.”

The SHPD uses a single category for statistical data on petty theft, she added.

“Since we don’t track it on the front end, we don’t program it to do that, so we just do it as a general crime statistic of theft in general,” Brown said.

On the other hand, she said that mail theft is recorded separately and reported to federal agencies because it falls under a federal crime to steal out of mailboxes.

With the Christmas holiday now over, some residents may expect more packages to arrive in the form of returns or normal online shopping delivery. Brown suggested the following tips to potentially avoid having delivered packages stolen:

• Receive text updates from delivery companies, if available, to track a package.
• Only have packages delivered when someone will be present at the drop-off location.
• Require to have the package delivered only if someone can sign for it.
• Have packages sent to a neighbor’s house.
• Specify delivery options for drop-off (ask to hide it somewhere).

Hernandez recommended similar precautions to avoid theft. He also mentioned that UPS customers could also use the company’s UPS My Choice and UPS Access Point services to protect their deliveries.

Brown also suggested having cameras installed or devices near the front door that can take photographs of possible package thieves.

“We think it’s very helpful for a few reasons,” Brown said. “One, because even though […] all you have is a face– and we are trying to identify it, right– but for some reason somebody else might have video footage if there is a similar crime in a particular area, [and] we can tie all that together and see if it’s the same person or persons doing it. Maybe one footage has better leads, like a vehicle license plate, or maybe an officer recognizes that person from having stopped them in the field. Having footage is better than not having footage at all.”

Photos courtesy Adriana Echeverry
Photo illustration by Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune