Package theft: It may be the easiest crime to pull off in Los Angeles. Opportunity rests on just about every doorstep and almost no one gets caught.
Each year, reports of package theft spike in December, just as all the holiday shopping kicks into gear. Last December, there were 427 cases of package theft reported to the Los Angeles Police Department, a 13% increase from 2019.
The increase is being driven, of course, by people shopping on Amazon and everywhere else online. The number of e-commerce purchases is expected to grow another 17.9% this year, meaning that many more cardboard boxes will be dropped off this month.
The official numbers reported by the LAPD represent just a fraction of the thefts that take place. For many victims, it’s simply too much trouble to call the police when there is such a slim chance of catching the thief.
Edgar, a building manager in Beverly Grove who declined to give his last name, said the camera he installed in the lobby captures about three package thieves a month on video. But he has never caught anyone in the act, nor made a police report. Instead, he posts the video to NextDoor, the neighborhood-based social media network.
So do many others. Posting videos of porch pirates is now a mainstay of NextDoor. Another Beverly Grove resident thanked a would-be package thief on NextDoor recently for opening an envelope and inspecting the contents before replacing it. “Kind porch pirate had the decency to open the package and realize he didn’t want it,” wrote the person, who posted this video of the incident.
A spokesperson at NextDoor said the network does not keep track of how many times people complain about package thieves, though it does have stats on how many users plan on putting up holiday decorations (90%).
Despite the copious video evidence, package thieves consistently evade capture. Out of the 2,786 instances of package theft reported so far this year, police located a suspect only 51 times and made 25 arrests, according to LAPD data.
Only under extraordinary circumstances, such as stealing a high-value delivery, will police respond in person to a package theft. Otherwise, they encourage victims to fill out a report online, after answering 12 screening questions. But few people have taken advantage of the LAPD’s online portal.
All the major delivery services and e-commerce suppliers encourage customers to take steps to prevent theft, such as requiring a signature or placing a package in a locked storage container. UPS sells its own insurance policy to protect against package theft. FedEx will drop your delivery at the nearest Walgreens.
City Attorney Mike Feuer, in a recent tweet, implored city residents to take basic precautions, such as asking your “retired neighbor” to sign for the package.
The one foolproof protection is to do your shopping in person.
How we did it: We examined theft reports involving package deliveries from LAPD data for the past four years.
Have questions about our data or want to ask us anything? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.