Sting uses fake Amazon boxes, GPS to catch would-be thieves
Jersey City is teaming up with Amazon to try and thwart the thefts of packages during the Christmas season
The explosion in online shopping in the last decade has provided endless opportunities for "porch pirates" and stoop-surfers to make off with packages while homeowners are away or unaware. Some are caught on home video and shared on social media, but most escape undetected.
In one New Jersey city, law enforcement are now watching.
Jersey City, across the Hudson River from New York, is teaming up with the nation's largest online retailer to try and thwart some of the holiday season's most unwelcome visitors.
Police have partnered with Amazon to install doorbell cameras and plant dummy boxes at homes around the city to catch thieves in the act or as they make their getaway. The company provided the equipment to the city free of charge.
And it didn't take long for the first theft to occur.
"We had a box out on the street for three minutes before it was taken," said Capt. James Crecco, who is overseeing the initiative. "We thought it was a mistake at first."
The box was equipped with a GPS locator, and police were able to apprehend a suspect Tuesday, Crecco said.
Exact figures on porch thefts are hard to come by. A company commissioned by comparison-shopping service insuranceQuotes.com surveyed 1,000 people and extrapolated that 26 million Americans have had a holiday package stolen from their home. That would be nearly one in 12 Americans.
Neither UPS nor FedEx provided figures on how many packages are reported stolen or missing.
"We absolutely report them to local law enforcement when we hear of them, and we encourage our customers to do the same," UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said.
Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly told The Associated Press the locations for cameras and boxes were selected using the city's own crime statistics plus mapping of theft locations provided by Amazon. The company didn't provide any identifying information about customers.
"Most of the package thefts we've made arrests on revolve around CCTV or private surveillance cameras that give us a still image," Kelly said. "With the bait packages, some will be under video surveillance, and some will have GPS."
No homeowner is immune. Crecco's own mother was a victim of a package theft, he said. So was Mayor Steven Fulop, according to Fulop's spokeswoman.
Members of the police department who live in the city volunteered to have the cameras and boxes placed at their homes.
Kelly said the program has undergone a legal review and has been approved by a municipal prosecutor. He said the city is hoping to expand the program with assistance from Amazon.
The delivery companies provide services that could offer some protection against porch thefts, although some require picking up the package at a company store, which defeats the purpose of an at-home delivery.
To avoid parcels being left outside during extended absences, the post office has long allowed customers to set up hold-mail requests.
UPS and FedEx let customers sign up for alerts about deliveries and give them the chance to reschedule or change the drop-off address even for deliveries already on their way. They let customers leave detailed instructions for drivers about where around the house to leave a package.
The delivery companies will also let customers pick up packages at other businesses. FedEx, for example, uses some Albertsons and Kroger grocery stores and Walgreens drugstores.
— Have packages delivered to a workplace or a friend who is home during the day.
— Ask if a signature can be required for the package to be dropped off, particularly if it's an expensive item.
— There are services that use a locked storage box bolted to the customer's porch; delivery drivers can unlock them by entering a code on a keypad.
Associated Press Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this story.