Photo: Undercover detective with decoy package; source, Cristopher Chung, The Press Democrat
In offering a different kind of “surprise” holiday gift this season, law enforcement agencies in Sonoma County, California are using “decoy” packages with GPS-tracking inside to catch thieves stealing from doorsteps, according to a Press Democrat news report.
Sgt. Paul Gilman of the Petaluma Police explained, “We find a way to make sure that the GPS can work inside the package. If you open it up, it might look like it’s a number of different things.”
And in giving fair warning to would-be holiday thieves, Sgt. Gilman added, “You may not know until you get stopped on your way home that you’ve stolen a device that has GPS in it.”
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Gilman is unfortunately qualified to speak on the matter, as he was himself a victim of package theft. About this time last year, Gilman ordered presents for his team on the police department. He received a delivery message that a package had been left, but found nothing when he got home.
The package was stolen “within 10 minutes of being dropped off,” Gilman reported. The thief was caught a few days later trying to steal another package.
Thefts of packages are common this time of year, when deliveries and gift parcels can pile up on the doorsteps and front porches around the nation.
In nearby Santa Rosa, Detective Gavin Holzapfel reported that the police department caught three suspects after deploying bait packages last year during the holidays. Det. Holzapfel also said that his department receives about six package theft reports a day during the holidays—“and that’s just what gets reported,” he added.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has initiated a similar “bait” program, which relies in part upon participation from volunteers: residents who live in areas with significant package theft activity, who agree to let police use their homes as decoy sites.
While these measures are useful in gathering evidence for more successful prosecutions, law enforcement agencies across the nations often advise their residents to help deter package thefts by requiring signatures for delivery, scheduling deliveries during times when someone will be able to receive the package, and even installing security cameras—that are noticeable, and likely to discourage would-be package thieves.
Read the Petaluma PD GPS “bait package” program announcement and tips