Jersey City sting targets package-nabbing ‘porch pirates’

Heads up: Jersey City is basically booby-trapped. In several neighborhoods, police have set out bait — Amazon boxes rigged with GPS tracking device to catch so-called porch pirates, who brazenly pilfer peoples’ packages right off their stoops. Victims include Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

“My wife is expecting and we had a baby shower and some of the packages were stolen, so I’ve experienced it firsthand,” Fulop said.

Thieves nipped a package from Police Chief Mike Kelly, too.

“I lost two dress shirts, and I didn’t report it,” he said.

Most people don’t, but one study estimates porch pirates hit 26 million Americans in 2016, or one in 12 people. This year, exasperated Jersey City officials reached out to Amazon, which ships more than 600 million packages a year, and asked for help. The company sent rechargeable GPS transponders, which detectives tuck inside bogus merchandise, like dolls and sneakers. The rigged items get packed inside Amazon boxes and left on porches. Police wait for thieves to take the bait.

“Oh, it’s working great. Yesterday, within eight minutes, we had our first hit,” Kelly said.

Sgt. Gary Moffitt said that the pilferer was being tracked every step of the way.

“He took it out of the box, and he was walking down the street just holding it,” Moffitt said.

On day one, Jersey City Police say they arrested three very unsuspecting suspects.

“He had a pretty good facial expression where he was definitely caught off guard and didn’t really know what was going on,” Moffitt said. “We tried to explain it to him and had this, ‘Whoa, what is this all about?'”

Jersey City’s also working with camera-equipped doorbells provided by a company called Ring. Videos often get clear images of people taking packages. Police also want residents to report package thefts, which they can combine with an Amazon map of theft hot spots.

“The heat map indicates where their customers are having the most difficulty getting their packages,” said Kelly. “So we overlaid their map with our theft map and then we came up with some locations that we thought were really important for us to get involved in.”

“People wait for those deliveries. They track them, especially during Christmastime, and when it’s not there when you get home, it’s really disheartening. So this hopefully acts as a deterrent for people,” Fulop said.

The porch pirate sting will continue throughout the holidays with bait boxes deployed all over town. Police hope thieves do figure out the game is rigged and back off the boxes.