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Stopping porch pirates, which method is better, deterrence or prevention?

Millions of Americans have packages stolen every year, which is why 2 On Your Side took a closer look at what’s being done.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With more shopping being done online than ever before, more packages are being shipped and delivered to homes across Western New York. 

It’s made for easy pickings for “porch pirates” during the pandemic but with the holiday season kicking into gear, could a change to New York’s penal code deter would-be thieves? 

Various surveys have found that the percentage of Americans who have had a package stolen has grown steadily in recent years. After surveying 1,790 adults, the website Finder.com extrapolated that 14% of Americans were victims of “porch piracy” between July 2020 and July 2021, in other words over 35 million people.

And whether the individuals taking these packages are desperate, down on their luck, or part of a larger scheme, in most cases law enforcement designates these are crimes of opportunity.

“Realistically they're going to try and take whatever they can get,” said Amherst Police Lieutenant Kari McFayden.

Last year the town had approximately 50 front door/residential porch larcenies McFayden said. So far this year they’ve had approximately 20. For comparison, Amherst’s 2019 census population was 126,082.

“Around this time of year the holidays coming up we see an increase of criminals being opportunistic following the Amazon truck from stop to stop,” McFayden said.

Simple tips that can prevent these thefts include using a side door for drop-offs or having a garage code listed with your order. Similar to the garage method, coded lockboxes are also commonly used by carriers like Amazon. Lt. McFayden had a few other suggestions.

“It can be anything as simple as a doorbell camera…p.o. box is also a good idea… have a delivery scheduled for the actual UPS center or the actual post office.”

Check with your employer too. They may allow for a package to be dropped off at the office, rather than be left unattended at your home.

Deterring would-be thieves is another option. States like Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and California have taken or are taking steps to increase the penalties that are doled out for stealing packages. While tampering with federal mail is already a felony, stealing from private companies like Amazon, FedEx or UPS is not. But why?

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We asked 2 On Your Side legal analyst Barry Covert. “When the statute was passed to make it a federal crime to steal or destroy federal mail packages... the federal post office was really the only carrier and that's the type the statute protected it has not been expanded to protect packages from federal express, from Amazon, UPS from any other private carriers,” explained Covert.

That antiquated definition is one of the reasons State Senator Daphne Jordan has proposed expanding New York's statute and making stealing any package a more serious offense, instead of just a misdemeanor. Her 2019 Senate Bill S6794 only has republican backers and with the democratic majority in control, Jordan believes the bill could face an uphill battle out of committee.

"If a lawmaker looked at the facts and they saw what they have in place is not a deterrent for this crime that it makes sense. We're increasing the penalty, grand larceny in the 4th degree that could result in 1-4 years in jail,” said State Senator Jordan.

Right now in New York, a felony may only be considered when a stolen item is worth over $1,000.

Jordan said that when the bill was first proposed in 2019 her team estimated that 36% of Americans have had at least one package stolen when ordering online, but in 2020 she stated that number increased to 43%.

When asked if porch piracy is being overblown Lt. McFayden said.

“I don't think any theft can be overblown, if someone is taking the time to go on to your property and take your things that is something Amherst Police definitely cares about.”