AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several people in a south Austin neighborhood said their doorbell cameras have caught the same people swiping packages from their porches.
“We need to stop this now, especially before the holidays get started,” said Gabriela, one of the neighbors. “They’re hitting in the middle of the day, the middle of the night. Same car. Same people.”
She was already frustrated when it happened to her, but when she saw other people post videos of what looked like the same suspects and vehicle, she stepped in, hoping to thwart the operation.
She and her husband put a box of dirty diapers on the front porch.
“The same [people] came back and took [the] package,” she said. “And when they discovered it was a bunch of dirty diapers they came back and smeared those diapers on our front door.”
It didn’t stop there.
“Thirty minutes later, they came back with a giant bag of cow manure. They spread that all over our front porch and on our cars in the driveway,” Gabriela said. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I called police, filed a report, and now there’s a detective on the case.”
Gabriele said the people seen stealing the packages are driving around in a black Chevy Suburban with no plates.
The Austin Police Department said it’s an active case, and the manure-smearing portion could hit the point of criminal mischief.
About a mile away from Gabriela, Britany Walker confronted package thieves outside her home in a different way.
“I tried to pull on their emotions or something,” Walker said. “I just ran out and said, ‘I have a baby,’ and they looked at me and just laughed. It was a really upsetting moment.”
APD said porch-pirate victims are “well within their rights” to confront suspects, but it’s “safest to call 911 to report the incident if it’s in progress.”
Harsher penalties for package thieves
In 2019, Texas passed new laws aimed to deter porch pirates, making certain cases felonies.
According to a 2021 article in the Houston Law Review, such legislation hasn’t made a dent in deterring criminals. One in five Americans have claimed to have had a package stolen from outside their front door.
The article suggests big-name delivery companies should contribute to preventative measures.
It states “the law ought to facilitate greater private sector participation in combatting porch piracy by creating a civil cause of action that would allow delivery companies to play a larger role in the solution.”
The Round Rock model
In Round Rock, the police department launches “Operation Front Porch” every holiday season.
During the holiday months, residents can opt to get their packages delivered to the police department, so boxes aren’t sitting outside unattended.
“It was very successful,” said Commander Tom Sloan. “What safer place to have your package delivered to than the police department?”
Round Rock Police also have a community camera program that Sloan said helps investigators catch suspects more quickly. It’s a voluntary database that provides the department with a list of homes that have surveillance cameras, so investigators can reach out to homeowners and ask for video if a crime happened in the area.