The man on the bicycle saw the package on the porch and, seizing the opportunity as he cruised by, decided to steal it.
The so-called “porch pirate,” a relatively new breed of criminal following the exponential growth in home deliveries thanks to behemoth Amazon and others, tucked the package under his arm, jogged to his bike, and took off from the townhome in downtown Anaheim.
The thief had no clue a surprise was inside the package: a checkbook-sized tracking device that had created a geo-fence, or virtual perimeter, around the package.
When the package moved beyond the geo-fence, it triggered an alert to Anaheim PD dispatchers.
Using an app, created by 3SI Security Systems Inc., APD dispatchers were able to track the movement of the package, including its speed and direction of travel, and get an update on its location every six seconds.
As the clueless thief left behind digital breadcrumbs, sealing his fate of being charged with felony grand theft, dispatchers alerted APD patrol officers.
Five minutes after he five-fingered the package, the perp was in handcuffs.
In partnership with Amazon and other corporations, the Anaheim PD is testing a program to bust porch pirates by planting boxes disguised as legit Amazon deliveries equipped with the tracking technology.
The program began in May and already has yielded four arrests, said the two sergeants tasked with rolling out the program, Jon Yepes and Darrin Lee.
Yepes and Lee, who run the APD’s Burglary and Auto Theft Detail, believe the effort will serve as a deterrent to would-be porch pirates, who tend to come in two varieties: those who follow around delivery trucks in less populated areas and swipe packages off porches, and those who commit the act on impulse in areas of high car and foot traffic.
“Right now, we’re just utilizing packages disguised as Amazon delivery packages,” Lee said.
The APD, Yepes added, plans to expand the program to combat burglaries at pharmacies and cell phone stores, two popular targets of thieves.
The APD began tracking thefts of delivery packages from porches about two years ago and now receives about five calls per month, Yepes said.
He and Lee stressed, however, that the actual number of porch pirate victims is much higher because many just call the delivery service and don’t bother to contact the police – they just want their stuff.
The APD borrowed the idea of planting bogus delivery boxes from the Arcadia PD, which began its program about two years ago and has reported a dramatic decrease in thefts from porches after word of the program got out.
And the delivery boxes actually aren’t bogus – they contain items totaling more than $950 in value, the minimum threshold to make the crime a felony. Misdemeanor thefts result in citations.
“We have to make sure that the property that’s in the package exceeds $950, so we’ve partnered with Home Depot and Disneyland for some of their gift certificates,” Lee said.
If charged with a felony, suspects have to remain in custody until they appear before a judge.
On a recent weekday, Lee and Yepes dropped off two packages, the first in the downtown area and the second one near a freeway.
The two sergeants likened the program to a fishing excursion. They hope to get a bite, and they look for the best fishing hole possible.
The homes where they drop the packages off typically belong to victims of porch pirates.
“We work with friendly citizens who often have been victimized before,” Lee explained. “ They feel powerless and they want to do something. They feel they are doing something to help the police department, and they feel empowered.”
Often, porch pirates have committed other crimes, the sergeants said.
“These crimes are a crime of opportunity,” Yepes said, “and oftentimes, they (the thieves) just committed some other type of offense and as they’re making their getaway, they decide to snag a package.”
Indeed, the thief on the bike turned out to be wanted for stealing identification cards and credit cards in a case from Westminster.
“So our goal is not only to affect porch pirates,” Yepes said, “but also to affect the other crimes that are taking place, whether it’s residential burglaries, commercial burglaries, vehicle thefts. We’re hoping to hit the entire gambit.”