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Tis the porch pirate season, but Hudson County communities are fighting back
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'Tis the ‘porch pirate’ season, but Hudson County communities are fighting back

Posted Dec 01, 2019

By Steven Rodas | The Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN — A utility truck pulled up to a busy Hoboken thoroughfare, turned on the hazards and, while the driver stayed put, another man began lobbing packages he’d stolen from people’s porches into the back of the truck.

“It was within 30 to 60 seconds,” Hoboken Detective William Collins said at police headquarters last week. “People look out their windows and think, ‘Oh, it’s just someone working. Nothing wrong here.’ In that case, we were lucky enough to get the plate and find the driver — who later confessed.”

Collins said most package thefts ordinarily don’t happen that way. The usual MO of package thieves, sometimes referred to as “porch pirates,” is on foot, which presents an added challenge to the authorities. Now that the holiday season is underway — considered peak time for such thefts — police departments throughout Hudson County are gearing up to deter people from swiping packages from porches and foyers, and catch the ones that do.

This year, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Kearny have partnered with Amazon as part of an initiative to catch would-be burglars. As part of the program, the city sets up fake Amazon boxes — equipped with GPS units and surveillance cameras — outside of houses and apartment buildings that have experienced multiple thefts.

“It’s a crime of opportunity. When someone’s walking down the street with a package under their arm, or riding a bike, neither police officers nor civilians know that what they’re holding are proceeds of a theft,” Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante told The Jersey Journal. “We have over 28,000 addresses in Hoboken alone, is a combination of residential and business. That’s 220 intersections. Even if we put ‘a watch’ at all of the intersections, we would still have package thefts inside our multi-dwelling buildings. So, it’s very, very tough.”

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail e-commerce sales saw a 13.3 percent surge from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019. Per global data platform, Statista, as generations skew younger more and more shoppers prefer to stay at home and whittle away their shopping lists one click at a time.

Playing defense

This holiday season Kearny, Jersey City, and Hoboken are taking part in the Amazon initiative.

“We were first on the East Coast to implement this type of package theft sting (in 2018), and we’re proud to serve as a model for other areas now implementing similar strategies to combat the issue,” Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said. “The goal of the program is not just to catch the thieves, but more to deter these crimes altogether.”

The boxes are provided free of charge from Amazon.

Wallace-Scalcione estimated that between 400 and 500 package thefts took place in Jersey City in 2018, per information provided by Amazon.

“Eight minutes after we dropped the first bait package (last year), it was picked up,” she said.

In addition to decoys, the city is providing Ring doorbells to homeowners that put in a request or are likely to be targeted.

California-based company Ring connects its video doorbell to the resident’s home Wi-Fi network and sends real-time notifications to their mobile device when someone arrives at their door.

A 2018 pilot program — which included the donation of over 500 Ring doorbells to two Newark neighborhoods — saw burglaries reduced by more than 50 percent from April through July in comparison with the same span of time in 2017, according to a company announcement.

Wallace-Scalcione added that although some areas get hit more than others, no one is immune to these thefts. Even Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop fell victim to a package thief prior to his wife’s baby shower in December 2018.

Hoboken had 192 package thefts reported in 2018 and 107 so far in 2019.

“We have designated areas where we want to concentrate — whether it be the steps of a home or inside of a building where we’ll have surveillance set up,” said Collins. “The owners of the buildings are aware of it.”

Kearny Sgt. Michael Gonzalez said when heard about Jersey City’s success with the anti-theft program, preparations began in his city as well.

“We usually have a patrol monitoring these types of incidents, but we’re going to give this program a try,” said Gonzalez. “I wouldn’t say it’s a huge issue here, but like any other town you see a spike during the holidays. I know its cliché, but I think we should still adhere to the ‘see something, say something’ rule. If you see someone lurking around, report it and we’ll get a car to the area.”

Officials in North Bergen and Union City said they are also providing residents with Ring doorbell systems.

"Since Jan. 1, we have only had 19 incidents of packages stolen, which is significantly low for an urban community,” said North Bergen Police Chief Robert Dowd, who noted that 15 of those ended in arrests. “However, we always want to improve these numbers.”

North Bergen had a total of 45 package thefts in 2018.

In Union City, spokesperson Erin Knoedler noted that Mayor Brian Stack hosts over a hundred community meetings throughout the year wherein they advise residents to reports any suspicious activity.

“We have a multi-pronged approach,” said Knoedler. “We believe the main thing is to educate the public.”

What you can do

Bayonne police Lt. Eric Amato has some suggestions for residents as well.

“People should try to schedule the delivery for when they’ll be home, if possible, or indicate if there is someplace the delivery can be made where it is not easily visible, possibly in a shed or yard,” said Amato, who noted that Bayonne had 94 package thefts in 2018 and slightly more than 50 this year. “Amazon has pick-up locations and also offer a hub locker, where once the item is delivered an e-mail is sent with a code so the customer can retrieve it.”

In West New York, which had 14 package thefts in December 2018 alone, Director Mark Flores agreed that arranging to have packages delivered where the customer knows a person will be can make a big difference.

Flores noted that residents could arrange to have the package left with a neighbor. “Our patrol units and walking officers will [also] be extra vigilant in monitoring suspicious activity,” he added.

Police departments also suggest that residents require a signature when they make an order online and additionally, consider having packages delivered to their workplace.

A non-violent crime

Considering package thefts fall under the non-violent crime category, Ferrante said “porch pirates” can strike with alarming frequency, even after they are caught.

“We have law enforcement apprehending these individuals but then (because of the type of crime) they’re on the block the following day,” Ferrante said, who noted that when an address is victimized that location is 50 percent more likely to be re-burglarized the following day. “Victims don’t always have the patience we do."

Ferrante pointed to an arrest his department made in January of 33-year-old David Diaz.

Diaz, a serial package thief, was charged in January with stealing packages from residential buildings on four occasions in one month, according to court records. Two of the thefts were three days apart.

“One last big thing we try to educate people on has to do with condo buildings,” said Collins. “When residents pull out of garages, especially in the morning when they’re leaving for work, they’re a block or two away before the door starts coming back down.

"It doesn’t come down for at least a minute or two, which can then present an opportunity.”


https://www.nj.com/hudson/2019/12/tis- ... es-are-fighting-back.html

Posted on: 2019/12/2 5:17
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