Parma, Ohio, police are targeting porch pirates this holiday season with an ingenious device: a fake bait package with a GPS tracker inside. They hope the technology will deter thieves from snatching freshly delivered packages outside houses over the holidays.
Under the Parma Police Department’s Project S.T.O.P. (Stop Theft of Packages), police are planning to bait thieves into stealing the sham package placed on front porches or at the foot of front doors.
“We’re putting out a bait package with a GPS system in it,” Police Chief Joseph M. Bobak explained. “If somebody takes the package, it allows us to track that person. It’s real time, so it’s really accurate information. We’ll be able to apprehend that person for stealing property off of porches.”
Parma police are still looking to make their first arrest under the program. However, Sergeant David D’Eusanio thinks the program is having a deterrent effect.
“We put a lot of bait packages out there but didn’t have any arrests last year or so far this year. We did have 30 reported thefts in 2021, and so far in 2022 we’ve had 17,” D’Eusanio said.
The officer also said the community has been involved and supportive of the program. “Getting the word out there was extremely successful. As a result of the media we’re getting for this, a lot of residents called saying we could use their house.”
In a typical operation, an undercover officer will deposit the package — which looks like a legitimate Amazon, Walmart or Best Buy box — on a front porch in an area that has been targeted before and then wait.
The package is equipped with not only GPS, but also an automated camera and an alarm.
“It’s like real-time GPS that takes videos, photographs and tracks the package,” D’Eusanio said. “There’s also an alarm inside of it. It even makes a prosecutor’s report at the end.”
That said, the process still relies on some manpower. “The technology is wonderful, but we have to keep our eyes on it,” he noted. “So we have an undercover car in the area. When the package is stolen, the car will follow it and call in marked units to make a traffic stop.”
Parma police spent $3,600 out of its trust fund (from seized assets) to lease two GPS devices from Assisted Patrol.
“It’s a crime of opportunity, but we’re hopeful we’ll [arrest] someone here soon,” D’Eusanio said.
The program was launched last year with help from Mayor Tim DeGeeter, Councilwoman Kammy Shuman, Parma police, local prosecutors and state representatives.
“Residents are happy that the program was implemented,” Shuman said. “They feel more comfortable ordering to their homes knowing that the police are watching for theft.”
Police are wondering what else they can use the GPS technology for.
“It could also be used for thefts of vehicles,” D’Eusanio said. “We’ve kicked that around, putting it in all of these Kias and Hyundais being stolen.
“We’re considering maybe doing some bait cars after the holidays and shopping taper down.”
For now, police hope the bait package will remind porch pirates not to steal other people’s presents.