A man who lives in South Philadelphia contacted me to complain after the third time someone stole a package off his porch.
“I work during the day and so does my wife, so no one is home to bring in the packages we receive from FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Mail,” the man, who prefers that I not use his name, said to me. “For the third time in so many months, someone stole a package from us.”
The man said he lives on a good city block that is normally safe and crime-free, and he has friendly and alert neighbors. But none of his neighbors saw the thieves steal his packages. Some of his neighbors have also had packages stolen from their porches.
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Theft of packages, or “porch pirating,” is like car break-ins, which I covered in my last piece. The thefts are considered a minor crime and not much police action is taken, and prosecutors rarely take the thieves to criminal court. But theft of packages are quality of life crimes, and although it is a minor crime, the impact on the victim is not minor.
According to the man who contacted me, the theft of his packages has upset him and his family greatly, and they feel less safe in their home. They have become much more security-conscious.
“It kills me that some thief just walks up on my porch on my property and helps himself to my packages,” the man said. “It is an invasion of my privacy. What would happen if one of my kids opens the door while the thief is on the porch?
“I think the police and the district attorney should do more to stop these thieves who roam around the city looking for unguarded packages.”
I offered my sympathy and I told the man that the Pennsylvania Legislature is working on a bill to help reduce thefts from porches and doorways. In an email from Pennsylvania Senator Mike Regan, he announced that legislation cracking down on porch pirating” was approved by the Pennsylvania Senate.
The bill began in a Feb. 17 memorandum from Pennsylvania Senator Frank A. Farry to all senators. In the memorandum, he recommended cracking down on porch pirating in the Commonwealth.
“The world of shopping has dramatically changed with Amazon, online grocery shopping, and direct delivery services growing in size and ease of use,” Senator Farry wrote in the memorandum. “These changes have had many positive impacts on our constituents, especially during the pandemic. Criminals see this change in commerce as another way to steal from our constituents.
“The average cost of a package stolen in Pennsylvania is $43 and close to 2 million Pennsylvanians have experienced this crime. The financial toll can hurt many everyday Pennsylvanians, but there is also the emotional distress of having your personal property violated by these pirates. These issues continue to get worse since 2020 with the major increases and new accessibility to online/remote shopping. Theft of mail is currently charged under other theft offenses based solely on the value of the item taken. My legislation would implement specific penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter. The grading of this offense would increase if the person has prior convictions for theft of mail.”
We must give constant attention to making sure that emerging forms of criminal activity can be prosecuted and penalized.
Senator Farry asked his fellow senators to join him in co-sponsoring the legislation to fight back against this new form of piracy.
“Senate Bill 527 would implement specific penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter,” Senator Farry stated in his email. “The grading of this offense would increase if the person had prior convictions for theft of mail. In Pennsylvania, theft of mail — also known as porch pirating — is currently charged under other theft offenses based solely on the value of the item taken by a porch pirate.”
On June 6, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Pennsylvania Senator Lisa Baker, advanced Senate Bill 527.
“The bill creates a new crime, theft of mail, and implements specific penalties for repeat offenders,” Senator Baker said. “We must give constant attention to making sure that emerging forms of criminal activity can be prosecuted and penalized. With the growth in online shopping, the crime of porch pirating has quickly spread.”
On June 21, the bill moved to the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.
Similar anti-porch pirating bills are being legislated in New Jersey, Tennessee, and other states across the country, as well as in Washington, D.C., where some congressional representatives are calling for porch pirating to become a federal crime, as it is for theft of U.S. mail.
In the meantime, I suggested the man get a doorbell cam. The doorbell cam is triggered by a motion sensor and will notify him of activity at his door via his cell phone. The door cam also captures footage of the thief in action.
Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times.