Grove City porch-pirate decoy program looks to nab package thieves
The Grove City Division of Police is planning to expand a program designed to help catch thieves who steal packages from residences' front porches.
The police department, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, randomly places phony packages with GPS tracking devices on preselected front porches, said Michael Weaver, sergeant, special operations.
"We've been doing this the last two years during the holiday season, when the number of packages that are being delivered really picks up," Weaver said. "These days, especially with the pandemic, we're seeing more people buying items and having them delivered to them at home. It's like it's Christmas all year round."
So the bait program will begin taking place throughout the year, when possible, and not only during the holidays, he said.
The U.S. Postal Service provides official packages and labeling to the police department, Weaver said.
"We put real merchandise in the packages so they weigh and feel like a legitimate package," he said. "We'll deploy a number of the bait packages out on porches and have a plain-clothes officer monitor the GPS units to see if anyone takes one of the packages."
The GPS signal would help lead officers to the package and the thief, Weaver said.
Police have deployed the bait packages on five dates over the past two years, he said.
Thus far, no one has attempted to steal one of the bogus packages, he said.
Grove City is such a large community and packages are delivered to many homes throughout the entire city, he said. It's impossible to predict where a thief might be operating on a given day.
There is a bit of luck that's involved," he said.
"Some communities have been very passive in pursuing and investigating this type of theft," Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said. "We have not taken that tack. We're trying to be more proactive."
The bait-package program paid indirect dividends Dec. 22.
Officers who were placing packages at houses observed a man who appeared to be following a package-delivery truck, Weaver said.
"We watched him wait until the delivery vehicle drove away and then walk up to five residences and take the package from the porch," he said.
Police approached and arrested the Grove City man without incident.
Packages from various residences were found in his car and returned to their owners, Weaver said.
In all, the 42-year-old man was found in possession of seven packages that didn't belong to him, Weaver said.
Grove City police charged him with seven counts of petty theft, he said. Each count is a first-degree misdemeanor, he said. A person found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio could be sentenced up to six months in jail and fined up to $1,000.
The man was scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 12 in Franklin County Municipal Court.
According to the case files on the municipal court's website, a bench warrant was issued Jan. 12 after he failed to appear for the hearing.
The frequency of package thefts is growing, along with the number of packages that are being delivered to residences, Weaver said.
Residents should sign up to receive notifications of when their packages are delivered and retrieve them as soon as possible, he said.
"More people are installing doorbell cameras that provide images of a suspect and help us investigate a theft," Weaver said.
Amazon, UPS and other delivery companies offer customers the option of arranging to have their packages delivered to a locker at stores or other locations, he said.
"You can punch in a code they give you, and the door will open so you can pick up your package," Weaver said. "That's a particularly good idea for an expensive item."