Calif. law enforcement puts out fake packages to catch thieves

Various packages, which contain GPS transmitters, are being left in different areas with the goal to tip deputies when thefts occur

By Jondi Gumz
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — In a new initiative to deter holiday thievery, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office is using decoy packages.

Packages of all shapes and sizes — containing GPS transmitters — are being left in different areas of the county, with the goal to tip deputies when thefts occur.

“If the package is stolen, we’re hoping it leads to an arrest,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Clark on Tuesday.

A video about the new anti-theft strategy posted the day before Thanksgiving on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page features a man in a black hoodie and sunglasses ripping open a package to find a GPS transmitter, followed by a knock on the door and Clark saying, “Don’t be a grinch.”

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Posted by Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday, November 22, 2017

In just a week, the video has received 20,000 views, 600 likes, 300 shares and positive comments from residents.

“Very cool,” said David Cariaga, who works for Operating Engineers Local 3, representing deputies. “Thinking inside the box this time.”

Aptos resident Jackie Dryden is among those waiting for packages.

“Fortunately, we have never have never had packages taken in the 52 years we have lived here,” she said. “Praying that it doesn’t happen.”

Danny Kirby, who lives in Capitola, offered to have a decoy package sit on his doorstep, and Kerry Guadagnin O’Malley volunteered her Westside Santa Cruz location.

Santa Cruz Police spokeswoman Joyce Blatschke said she was not aware of a package decoy program in the city.

Clark said the package decoys come on the heels of a decoy bike with a GPS transmitter that led to an arrest in the summer.

“We’re doing the same thing with packages,” he said. “Unfortunately we see thefts from people’s homes, especially stuff that is unsecured or easy to access, especially at the holiday season.”

The launch was timed in advance of Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, resulting in an onslaught of deliveries of packages to doorsteps where no one is at home.

With the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS providing the service and theft reported to various law enforcement agencies, statistics on package thefts are hard to get.

Home security companies such as August Home and Vivint have done surveys showing package theft is of wide concern but only 10 percent of Americans have installed surveillance technology.

Mike Grabham, founder of startup Package Guard, reports Kickstarter backers should soon get their anti-theft device. The battery-powered device, in the shape of a Frisbee, sets off a screeching alarm if a package is stolen and sends the homeowner a text alert. Backers pledged $45,000 for manufacturing the $80 device and got the Package Guard for half price.

Locally, people who have had packages stolen warn their neighbors on NextDoor, the neighborhood social network, and on Facebook.

A Bonny Doon resident encouraged her neighbors to watch out for thieves after a package delivered by the U.S. Postal Service was stolen in November.

Thanksgiving week, a Scotts Valley resident reported someone spotted a wallet inadvertently left on the driver’s seat and smashed the window to grab it.

A resident in the South Morrissey area of Santa Cruz said he’s had hundreds of dollars of packages taken by thieves in the last few years.

Last December, 220 thefts of all sorts were reported in the city of Santa Cruz, up from 160 in 2013, according to police statistics.

The Santa Cruz Police Department advises residents to not leave visible in a parked car to attract a burglar.

“Anything left visible, from cheap sunglasses to a backpack, could invite a window smash,” Santa Cruz Police posted on the department’s Facebook page. “Take it, lock it, keep it.”

Residents are encouraged report suspicious activity by calling 911 or the Santa Cruz Police anonymous tip line, 831-420-5995.

Clark suggested installing surveillance cameras and recommended neighbors call dispatch, 831-471-1121, if they notice someone suspicious, or if they see items reported stolen being sold on social media or at a flea market.

“We live in this community,” he said. “We can’t stand it when things like this happen.”


FedEx and UPS delivered more than 30 million packages a day between Black Friday and Christmas 2016.

A 2016 survey of 1,000 homeowners by August Home found:

• Each family receives 27 packages per year as fewer people patronize malls and more shop online.

• The average value of stolen packages is $50-$100.

• 70 percent expect to receive a package over the holiday season.

• 53 percent are worried about packages left outside their home being stolen.

• 74 percent of packages are stolen during the day when homeowners are at work.

©2017 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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