Shiver me timbers, porch pirates are back!
Well, actually they never really left. You'll find thieves taking packages from porches year-round, but with more people staying home during the pandemic comes an increase in online shopping and that means 'tis the season for thieves to take advantage.
Spokane teacher Kathleen Messersmith found that out the hard way this week.
"These guy are apparently not even checking for cameras because they walked right in front of two at least," Messersmith told me on Wednesday. "There was a missed doorbell (notification) at 3:04 pm and then a motion sensor (notification) went off at 3:23 pm."
Kathleen had plenty of precautions in place. She had cameras running and there was even someone home when her packages were brazenly taken in broad daylight, but not even 20 minutes after her three packages were dropped off by her mail carrier, they were gone.
"Somebody just walked up, grabbed three packages, ran back to their car and drove off," Kathleen said.
And after posting the photos and video from her security cameras online, Kathleen found out she wasn't the only one.
"I got at least three other people saying they were hit by the same guy," Kathleen added. "It's really frustrating that it was that quick and it sounds like this car was following the mail man."
"We are aware that thieves use that tactic where they will actually follow delivery vehicles," Spokane Police Sgt. Terry Preuninger said Wednesday morning. "They will stake neighborhoods out and will randomly drive around and be opportunist."
While it's too early in the season to tell exactly how much of an uptick Spokane Police are seeing in package thefts, every year like clockwork, it's an issue.
While you may not get an immediate response, depending on what else is happening and resources available for that day, Sgt. Preuninger said reporting the thefts, no matter how small is important.
"We expect to see it through the holidays," Sgt. Preuninger said. "Fighting crime is a partnership between the community and police. We encourage people to watch out for their neighbors, to protect themselves, but we want you to work with us because we are the people who can often bring the best results."
Kathleen did report her theft to Crime Check and then posted the images on social media in hopes that someone will know the thief.
Sgt. Preuninger said while posting those images to social media can help, citizens who have evidence like that need to make sure they get it to police as well, which is something that can be facilitated through Crime Check (509-456-2233).
Kathleen told me she let Crime Check know she had the video and pictures of the thief, but so far has not been contacted by police to get it.
"I'm trying to get the word out as much as possible since it's popped up that so many people were hit by these people," Kathleen said. "I think there's a good chance that we can all collaborate as a community and get this problem addressed a little bit more."
Kathleen's says the thief got away with a lightbulb, a light display for her TV and perhaps most tragic in all of this, a Christmas gift from her obviously awesome husband: A burrito blanket.
Honestly, our dog would've eaten it so it was more funny as 'look what I was going to get you' rather than actually having it in our house." Kathleen said laughing while trying to find the humor in her situation. "I'm imagining these thieves opening up a package expecting something awesome for Christmas and they get a giant fleece blanket that looks like a tortilla. That kind of almost made my day, but it serves them right."
Porch pirates will often try to sell their bounty online so it's important if you are looking to buy things on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, that you are doing your homework, too.
"If it's too good to be true, often it is," Sgt. Preuninger said. "Doesn't mean that anybody selling something privately like that is wrong, but you need to be responsible because if you take on stolen property you may be exposing yourself to what could be criminal activity, depending on a myriad of circumstances like 1.) How obvious was it that that deal was too good to be true, 2.) What were the circumstances? 3.) What did the other person say?, etc. If I buy a watch from someone and it's engraved and they can't explain why it's engraved and they're selling it for what I think is 1/10th of the value, that's a problem."
If you do your own investigating and happen to find what you think is your stolen property for sale online, again, police want you to call them first.
"You've done some investigating and you think you're going to try and recover your stolen property, we would like you to involve us," Sgt. Preuninger said. "We've had instances where people were 100 percent sure they've found their stolen property and they go to recover it and it turns out they were wrong. You can only imagine the dilemma that causes."
Kathleen told me Amazon did issue a refund, so while they aren't out any money, they are out one magnificent tortilla blanket.
When it comes to ordering online, Spokane Police recommend a security camera, specific delivery instructions for drivers, alternate and secure delivery locations like work or an Amazon locker, being home when you know more valuable items will be delivered, connecting with your neighbors and looking out for each other, and again, reporting the theft to crime check.
If you have a Ring security system, you can also opt-in to local public safety agency video requests. If enabled, you will receive notifications when local public safety agencies are looking for information relevant to an investigation. Ring states on their website that the feature does not grant public safety agencies the ability to see your video recordings "unless you explicitly choose to share them by responding to a video request." More information on that program can be found here.