Watch out package thieves: deputies are using GPS trackers to ca - KPTV - FOX 12

Watch out package thieves: deputies are using GPS trackers to catch you

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With Black Friday quickly approaching, the holiday shopping season is about to be in high gear. But it’s also the season for criminals to steal gift deliveries and packages right off front porches.

In an effort to crack down on this growing trend, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is using GPS trackers inside bait packages to catch criminals targeting deliveries left outside homes.

The trackers are often so small and so well-hidden that detectives say a criminal wouldn’t necessarily notice them, but as soon as they’re on the move, the trackers send an alert to deputies who can follow the criminal’s movements in real-time on a map down to an area of just a few feet.

The effort is a program the sheriff’s office has been using for three years now, and detectives told FOX 12 it works.

“Just getting the word out that we do it, alone, we can look at anywhere between a 10 percent and 20 percent drop in package thefts, mail thefts,” WCSO Detective Patrick Altiere said. “And we make a number of captures every year because, in spite of the media and the attention, people still do it.”

It’s those repeat offenders investigators want to catch the most, the people who essentially make it their full-time job to steal from unsuspecting people.

While package theft is top of mind this time of year, deputies said it’s not just bait packages they are using to track criminals.

“We also have bait bicycles, bait equipment – leaf blowers, chainsaws – we have a bait car,” Altiere added.

In many cases, deputies said it’s the same few people who are responsible for dozens of cases, and when the GPS tracker leads right to them, it’s like Christmas morning for investigators.

“When we catch someone after taking one of our packages, or bikes, or something out of our car, we find all the other stuff they’ve taken,” Altiere explained. “A couple years ago, we had a package theft capture that involved probably close to 100 packages that we ultimately recovered.”

The charges for those arrested range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the value of the contents of the stolen package, as well as factors relating to postage and delivery.

Of course, the best way for someone to protect themselves is to have their packages delivered to their office, a secure locker or some other place so they’re not left out in the open.

Deputies also noted doorbell cameras or other surveillance systems are also a good idea.

“A lot of the times we recognize people, it’s not their first time through our system,” Altiere explained. “So if you provide us with that video or a picture of someone who took something from your porch, we can look at that and know who that is right away.”

At the end of the day, Altiere said there are many way shoppers can help protect themselves from being the victims of thefts, but also added a warning for those would-be bandits looking to take away someone else’s holiday cheer.

“If you’re going to be a Grinch this Christmas, it’s not going to go well for you.”

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