Police in Sunnyvale are on present patrol to prevent porch pirates

A specialized team of police officers in Sunnyvale are out in force to prevent and solve rising package thefts, burglaries and other crimes that often occur around the holidays.

The Department of Public Safety’s ‘holiday burglary suppression detail’ spends from Thanksgiving through Christmas planting decoy packages, keeping an eye on delivery drivers, and attempting to catch crimes as they happen.

KTVU was along for the ride as the officers hit the streets. Within a couple of hours, a stolen vehicle was found, suspects with outstanding criminal warrants were detained, and presents left on porches were closely monitored.

A survey by Safewise, an independent security system review site found roughly 210 million packages have disappeared from porches across America so far this year. San Francisco ranked as the second-worst metro area for package thefts.

"It can be a heartache if you have your property stolen," said Lt. Jeromy Lima. "We can all connect with that so we take it personal."

Lima leads the team of at least four officers who regularly put in extra hours during the holidays to prevent overall theft, which has been on the rise across the Bay Area.

Statistics show Sunnyvale officers following up on leads and separated from regular patrol duties has greatly reduced any uptick in theft-related crimes, especially during the holidays.

"We don’t want to just be reactive," Lima said. "We don’t want to just respond to calls for service. We want to do something that we can proactively put a dent in this kind of problem."

The problem is suspected to be worse this year with more people shopping online.

It's unclear if package thefts specifically are up because many people don't report a stolen package primarily because of its value. Also, police agencies don't always specifically keep track of package thefts or it's included in residential burglary numbers.

But C+R Research surveyed 2,000 online shoppers across the country with nearly a quarter, 23%, saying they’ve been a victim of package theft so far this year. And, nearly a third of that group says it has happened more than once.

Overall, the survey found 60% of people know someone who had a package stolen during the holidays.

So, Sunnyvale has gotten permission from several homeowners to plant decoy packages on their doorsteps in hopes of luring porch pirates. In the past, police have filled some of the packages with GPS trackers.

While officers are on the lookout for leads and license plates, they do admit it requires a little luck, too.

"It is a needle in a haystack, but we’ve caught people over the last couple of years," Lima said.

In some ways, officers say it’s more about advertising on social media in hopes of deterring criminals and also regularly interacting and educating neighbors in ways to prevent theft.

Some tips include:

  • Arrange having packages delivered when someone is at home
  • Request packages be dropped in a location that is more hidden or out of sight
  • Avoid letting packages sit on a doorstep or in a visibly open area
  • Consider signing up for instant text or email alerts from delivery companies
  • Invest in a camera to help police in the event a theft or burglary occur

Police say even with precautions, package theft is a crime of opportunity.

"The longer these cases wait, they get stale," Lima said. "We’re looking for you. We’ll do our best to find you."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU