How likely are you to be a ‘porch pirate’ victim? New study offers clues

As more and more consumers shop online, opting for the convenience of having packages delivered to their door, thieves are finding it pretty easy to steal the boxes with minimal fuss. There’s even a term for such a thief — “porch pirate” — and it’s a crime that impacts millions at a substantial cost.

In recent weeks, research published in Criminal Justice Studies evaluated the new crime of opportunity, trying to determine what drew the porch pirates to the front door and which types of people would commit the crime.

‘Visibility is really a key’

Ben Stickle, a former police officer who is now an associate professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University, and his colleagues looked at dozens of videos posted on YouTube displaying porch piracy in action.

He found the distance from the street to the front door impacts the culprit’s thought process.

“We looked at three distances,” Stickle said. “One was very close, the other was kind of a medium distance of about 25 feet, and then the other was farther than that. What we found was that the closer the house is to the road, the more likely in our sample the package was to be stolen.”

Residents can’t change that distance, but there are ways to deter porch pirates from stealing packages.

“The take-away from this should be that the visibility is really a key to the package being stolen,” Stickle said.

If the thieves are unaware the package is there, they can’t investigate or steal it, Stickle said.

Allowing an Amazon delivery person to put the package inside is one way to ensure it’ll be there when you get home. Purchasing a locking mailbox is another alternative, Stickle said.

“Another option that we recommended for those who don’t want to spend that type of money is just something as simple as having maybe a large plant or something that the packages are then kind of tucked behind,” said Stickle. “Maybe you can see from inside but can’t see as well from the roadway. Or even just a large box. Not a box they would want to steal, but a large bin or something like that that you could set a package inside.”

Who are porch pirates?

The offenders proved to be both men and women, which isn’t the case in many other crimes, Stickle said.

“We did notice there was almost an even split between men and women, which is kind of unusual for most crimes that generally tend to be committed more by men,” said Stickle. “The rest of the demographic kind of looked similar to the rest of the United States.”

Beyond gender, Stickle and the other researchers also tried to gauge the socioeconomic statuses of those caught on camera stealing a box.

“The middle class seemed to be very well-represented,” said Stickle. “This didn’t seem to be a case of a lot of down-and-out folks who are walking through the neighborhood stealing packages off porches. This appeared, based on our analysis, to be folks who are driving cars, who are dressed well, middle-class or above, type of person.

“This wasn’t someone maybe drunk or something like that, just stumbling down the road stealing packages,” Stickle said. “It seemed to be someone who was doing it on purpose, who had some level of income. It wasn’t just your poorest of the poor out stealing things to survive.”

If a package can’t easily be camouflaged on the front step, Stickle recommends having it shipped to a trustworthy neighbor or work address.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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