Who are Porch Pirates?
You’ve probably heard of “Porch Pirates”, the catchy phrase used to describe criminals who steal packages from porches. There are plenty of gotcha videos about them on YouTube catching them in the act, and they always find their way in the news around the Holidays. They are increasingly of interest, as 43% of Americans have now had a delivered package stolen.
But who are these porch pirates, and how do they steal packages?
Who are Porch Pirates?
Quick answer? Package thieves don’t fit into a general category. Ben Stickle, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Administration at Middle Tennessee State University, did a study in which he and his team studied 67 YouTube videos in part to understand who package thieves are. Here’s a closer look at what the study revealed.
There is nearly an even split in gender with 34 men (49%) and 35 women (51%) identified as a thief in the videos.
Determining age was difficult, so the study only reported if the culprit was under 45 years of age or over. A whopping 94% were under 45, clearly revealing that it is a young person’s crime.
The predominant race of the suspects noted in the study was White, but there was a variety among all of the pirating incidents with 15% Black, 9% Hispanic, and 3% Asian.
The study also attempted to examine socioeconomic status by evaluating the offender’s appearance, clothing, and transportation. Based on this, it identified 20 people (30%) as lower status, 45 culprits (67%) as middle status, and one offender (1.5%) as upper status. One person (1.5%) could not be identified.
How are they Doing It?
Yes, some package theft incidents are no doubt spur of the moment decisions that happen when someone walks by a house with a box sitting out front and they grab it. But more often it is a planned crime.
Trailing the Trucks
BEWARE! Porch pirate in #Vacaville hit at least two homes last Friday. Neighbors believe she was following the delivery trucks because the thefts happened almost immediately after the deliveries. She also took off with this snack box for workers! #LateNewsTonight on @ABC10 pic.twitter.com/Mos1LInjLj — Madison Wade (@madisoncwade) December 10, 2019
They Might Come Back for More
One homeowner who had videos of two packages stolen from his house two months apart noticed similarities in the crimes. Both times a car slowly drove around the neighborhood, when the package was spotted a passenger nonchalantly walked to the house, grabbed the package and drove away.
Dressing as Nurses
Porch pirates can be very crafty. In a reported incident at CNN, two women were seen stealing packages on surveillance cameras dressed as nurses in Washington state, according to the Kennewick Police Department. They were wearing scrubs and gloves and even draped a badge around their neck. The Kennewick police posted more about here on Facebook:
These incidents fit with the study’s findings that most of these crimes take place during the day when the thieves can see the deliveries on house porches that are close to the road. The study found that most thieves got away in a car, did little to conceal their identity, weren’t deterred by cameras or signs that the homeowner was inside.
The Getaway Car
Most of the videos show a quick grab and flee like this one:
Police in Prince George's County, Maryland, have released surveillance footage showing just how desperate some porch pirates can be, w/ Subject swiping a bigscreen TV he can hardly hold & stuffing it into the side door when it wouldn't fit in the trunk.#LivePD #livepd pic.twitter.com/KkmHdXhvB9 — Dr. Carlos - Forensic Psychology Consultant (@insidethebadge) December 18, 2018
Breakdown of the Process
Stickle’s study broke down the process for package thieves in terms of their approach, execution, and exit.
Interestingly, the study shows that obstacles like a fence, gate, visible cameras, or even cars on the property did not deter the criminals. Essentially, the approach lasts “as long as it takes the offender to walk or run from the property edge to the porch”, says the study.
Actually stealing the package only takes seconds, as no tools or specialized skills are necessary. Although warning signs and cameras would seemingly stop the thieves after arriving at the porch, there was no evidence that this occurred in the videos.
Leaving the scene was also very quick and with few interruptions. The study only showed two instances in which the thieves tried to hide the items upon exiting. In four of the videos, the pirate was interrupted by the homeowner while exiting the property.
At least one controlled, academic study of YouTube videos shows that porch pirates are split among genders, almost completely under 45 years old, predominantly White, and mostly form in the middle socio-economic class. Their tactics are varied, but certainly not well-planned or evolved. They often trail trucks or simply walk up and grab packages. They usually are not deterred by obstacles such as fences or cameras, and they usually have a getaway car.
Taken as a whole, it's clear that porch pirates are not sophisticated crooks, but ones who are seizing on the ease of opportunity. Packages are simply in plain site and easily snatched. It's clear that consumers, retailers, and shippers will need to find ways to thwart this crime. The most obvious and clear solution is to adopt lockable, package boxes like DeliverySafe, which can be placed on the porch and can store deliveries until they are received.
This article is part of our full report on package theft in America. Here are all of the blogs posts on this topic:
- How Common is Package Theft?
- Where and When Does Package Theft Occur?
- Who are the Victims of Package Theft and Are You at Risk?
- Who are Porch Pirates?
- Who is Responsible for Package Theft and What is Being Done About It?
- How to Prevent Package Theft
- What is the Impact of Package Theft on Online Shopping?
- 4 Steps to Take When Your Package is Stolen
- A Complete Look at Package Theft Statistics
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