Addressing Front Porch Parcel Theft

photo of packages at the front door

The COPS Office Community Policing Dispatch has published a series of articles focusing on how the Redlands (California) Police Department (RPD) has been deploying GPS tracking devices to address community crime trends and apprehend criminals.

Many residents have discovered that if you have something in your front yard that has any value, you must take some type of measure to protect it or face the possibility of it being stolen. With more than 20 years of law enforcement experience, I have seen police reports filed by residents for the theft of different types of items that were located in their front yards. From the theft of Halloween and Christmas decorations to the theft of brass sprinkler heads, nothing of value seems to be safe.

It came as no surprise to law enforcement to learn that thieves also began targeting parcels and packages that were left on the front porches of houses. During the holiday season, the theft of parcels from front porches seems to increase as online gift ordering has expanded over the years. Even those that track the shipping information online do not know exactly when the driver will be delivering the packages. There will always be a window of opportunity for thieves to steal packages.

As discussed in the previous articles, the variable features on the ESO tracker manufactured by 3SI Security Systems have enabled the RPD to affordably address various crime trends. This year, the Special Operations Bureau was determined to apprehend those that were intent on stealing parcels and packages from people’s front porches and send a clear message that crimes such as these will not be tolerated. Over the past few years, residents have become increasingly frustrated by the number of people intent on stealing from them. Deploying ESO trackers allows community policing officers from within the Special Operations Bureau to partner with residents and turn the hunted into the hunter.

During the middle of December 2014, RPD received a report from a resident whose private video surveillance system showed a subject stealing a UPS package from his front porch. The image from the video surveillance system was grainy, and the suspect was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, which prevented the capture of a clear photo of the suspect. Within the next couple of days, RPD received two other reports of packages being stolen from the same neighborhood.

Because of this, a community policing officer approached one of the residents, who agreed to allow the police to place a package containing a laptop computer that had an ESO tracker embedded in it on the front porch. After wrapping the package in plain brown wrapping paper, the officer took the package to the local UPS store, where a clerk generated a genuine UPS shipping label for the victim’s residence. Once the label was affixed to the package, the officer placed the package on the front porch just like the other package that was stolen.

Five hours after placing the package on the front porch, the Communications Center at RPD received an alert from the ESO tracking device indicating the package was on the move. Within seconds, dispatchers accessed a secure website that depicted, over a Google road map, the speed and the direction of travel accurate to within 33 feet. With the device giving out tracking data updates every six seconds, dispatchers were able to broadcast real-time information to responding officers. Within only a few minutes, officers identified the suspect’s getaway vehicle and made a traffic stop on it. The suspects had already ripped open the UPS box and removed the laptop computer, which was now clearly visible in the back seat of the car. Police were able to take all three occupants of the vehicle into custody for the theft of the package.

photo of packages at the front doorDeployments such as the aforementioned parcel theft case have greatly enhanced the community policing program at RPD. The Special Operations Bureau has a long tradition of attempting to solve all types of criminal problems that arise in Redlands. No matter whether it’s a homicide or series of misdemeanor crimes, the Special Operations Bureau will deploy different investigative strategies to hold the criminals accountable for their actions or to discourage the reoccurrence of the criminal activity.

In the past, one of the traditional strategies employed by police was to deploy surveillance teams to monitor a potential target. In the 2000s, RPD was staffed with 92 sworn officers. When the need arose, commanders could pull personnel from various units to create surveillance teams that could sit on a target for hours. These surveillance teams proved to be costly and mostly ineffective. When the fiscal crisis struck in 2010–2011, sworn staffing levels at RPD were reduced by 22 percent. Except when investigating the most heinous crimes, the use of surveillance teams became nonexistent. All of the available police officers were used to provide the core services of the police department.

The ESO trackers have allowed for RPD to create 24/7 electronic stakeouts of targeted property at a cost of only $1.65 per day the first year and $.55 per day every year after. The devices can be deployed for up to 11 months before they need to be recharged, limiting the time it takes to maintain a deployment. Variable features allow authorities to safely monitor confidential informants for a short period of time or track cargo over long periods. With these devices, police departments have another option at their disposal when considering different surveillance tactics.

What is even more beneficial to local police departments is the satisfaction and appreciation of the business owners and residents who know that their local police department will take a few minutes to lead the efforts at reducing the quality of life crime that plagues most law abiding citizens. For law enforcement, deploying an ESO tracker program is similar to fishing from the shore using a bell attached to your fishing pole. You simply put out your bait and wait for the alert to go off. While you are waiting, you have the freedom to conduct other types of police work. When the alert sounds, officers can spring into action and take the crooks into custody.

The 2014 holiday season in Redlands ended with two separate arrests of individuals for stealing packages with GPS tracking devices embedded in them. Although the residents were not able to get their previously stolen property returned to them, they were all very appreciative of RPD’s efforts that allowed them to turn the tables on the crooks.

Officers were not able to determine how many packages each set of suspects was responsible for stealing, but a clear message was sent to each group: It is no longer easy pickings in Redlands. If you intend to steal packages from houses in Redlands, expect to find police and residents collaborating in an effort to bring you to justice.

Learn more about the Redlands Police Department’s GPS electronic stakeout program.

Lt. Travis Martinez is the Special Operations Bureau Lieutenant of the Redlands Police Department and can be contacted at

Lt. Travis Martinez
Special Operations Bureau
Redlands Police Department

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