Americans spent $126 billion dollars online shopping between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2018, and according to the research firm Adobe Analytics, that number is going to be higher after this year’s holiday season.
That’s part of what can make winter months a prime season for “porch pirates,” or people who steal packages from other people’s property, according to Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts.
“This is a crime of opportunity, we have people driving around looking for packages,” he said. “They’ll knock on the door and if no one’s home, they’ll take the package.”
He said he’s even known of cases where a thief dresses up as a serviceperson, like a pizza delivery driver, to make sneaking onto properties seem less suspicious.
Statistically speaking, it’s difficult to count precisely how many package thefts happen in any given area, because they are usually reported as larceny — or personal property — thefts. Larceny also encapsulates shoplifting, car stealing, bike theft and anything snatched from someone’s home.
A recent report from Security.org states for every 100,000 people in Oregon, there were almost 2,150 larceny thefts in 2017.
Both the Pendleton and Hermiston police departments recommend having personal packages sent to work. Roberts advocates for well-lit front porches, mailbox locks and secured front doors. But in a digital age, there’s a relatively new tool for fighting against crime that happens on personal property: doorbell cameras.
Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston, who noted the number of neighborhood watch groups has decreased significantly in the last 15 years, is a fan.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but a confession of a crime is not enough. We have to have additional evidence to help,” he said. “(Doorbell cameras) offer instantaneous high- quality information.”
Amazon’s line of doorbell cameras, Ring, has made a splash in the news this year. According to The Washington Post, the company has formed a relationship with over 400 police departments nationwide.
The Oregonian reported the Beaverton Police Department entered a contract with Ring in May and gained access to a modified version of the accompanying Neighbors app, which they could use to post crime updates and also request video footage from app users for area crimes.
Edmiston said the Hermiston Police Department won’t be endorsing any specific camera companies anytime soon. But he’s attended a promotional Ring event at a police chief conference in the past.
He said part of the reason the Hermiston Police Department hasn’t entered any such agreement has do with splash-back that the Beaverton Police received for theirs.
Civil liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as privacy advocates have expressed concerns about how increased surveillance could pit neighbors against one another, feed on personal bias or violate privacy.
Roberts noted privacy issues could arise if someone chooses to tilt their doorbell camera toward the public street, and not on their property, but that on an individual’s property, the footage can be a powerful tool for a smaller community.
“It does have significant evidentiary value,” said Roberts. “Working in small communities, we know most of our criminal population.”
Both police chiefs said to obtain Ring footage, they’ll contact an address or that homeowners will turnover the footage willingly after witnessing a theft or crime on their camera.
Roberts said otherwise, they’ll have to obtain footage through a search warrant or other legal means.
Destiny George, a Hermiston realtor, said she uses Ring and the Neighbors app and finds that both keep her feeling in the loop about local crime.
“I have two little children and am always on alert,” she stated during a conversation on Facebook. “We hear of more and more crime in our area, especially during the holidays. I shop online a lot, so I like to protect what I purchase.”
She said she’s had zero instances of uninvited guests, but that if she did, she’d post that footage online and turn it over to the police.