The Wash
A Porch Pirate takes an Amazon package and replaces it with an empty box. (Courtesy of Jon Markman)

Porch Pirates prey on Hill residents

With more and more Americans staying and working from home, many have opted to have their food, clothes, and other items delivered to their doorstep. Unfortunately, some residents in Capitol Hill never get to see them.

Cristen Satre and her husband are excited about the birth of their twins next month so they’ve been shopping. They bought rocketship crib sheets and Star Wars onesies for the boys’ outer space-themed nursery. Between preparing for the birth of their children and shopping for themselves and their corgi, they’ve received a lot of packages. Unfortunately, not all of them have made it inside. Last week, a man in a white baseball cap, carrying a Trader Joe’s bag stole one of those packages. Satre told The Wash she feels vulnerable.

A Porch Pirate makes off with dog food that was delivered to Cristen Satre’s doorstep. (Courtesy of Cristen Satre)

“It would be different if someone took something off the sidewalk,” Satre said. “But to steal from us, they actually have to open our gate, walk into our front yard, reach through our gate that leads to our home, and that makes me feel vulnerable.”

Residents like Satre say porch pirates are taking advantage of the influx of packages to people’s homes.

Package theft is a serious issue that negatively affects the quality of life for many Capitol Hill residents, authorities at the First District Metropolitan Police Department said.

‘They’re very swift these days’

Walking through the neighborhood, residents say they see discarded boxes scattered along the sidewalks or in the alleyways.

First District Metropolitan Police Captain Michal Pulliam said this is a common occurrence.

“We typically find the open packages in an alley,” Pulliam said. “They’ll go around the end, open the packages, and dump the actual box that was taken.”

When her neighbor found an empty box with her name and address on it, Devin Stark said she was furious.

“I work hard to buy certain things,” Stark said. “It’s very frustrating. You just feel violated.”

Before the pandemic, Stark says several items were stolen from her front porch, including three dresses she planned to wear to a wedding in South Carolina.

A Porch Pirate takes a package from Cameron Robinson’s doorstep. Satre says individuals who don’t hide from the Ring video doorbell don’t care about the consequences. (Courtesy of Cameron Robinson)

When his package was stolen by a man in bright red shoes, carrying a reusable shopping bag, Cameron Robinson says he felt unsettled.

“It was disconcerting,” Robinson said. “While it wasn’t someone in my home, it was someone right next to my door. We weren’t home at the time, but he didn’t know that. If my wife had answered the door right as he was there, I don’t know what would have happened.”

In Washington, package theft carries a fine of up to $1,000 if the value of the item is less than $1,000. If the value of the item is greater than $1,000, the fine is as well. The court sets the term of imprisonment.

Robinson has noticed a rise in thefts since March.

“It’s definitely ramping up,” Robinson said. People who’ve lived in Capitol Hill for several years have begun to express concerns with package thefts.

Satre noticed this increase as well.

“I’ve noticed a lot more alerts through Ring, Nest, and Nextdoor,” Satre said. “It seems like it’s the amount that I would normally expect to see around the holidays when people are having a lot of things delivered.”

Although residents say it’s cumbersome to deal with package thefts, they say package theft is a part of the risk they assume by living in a large city.

‘Please call us’

Part of the risk residents assume by living in the city is having porch pirates cut open packages on their front porch, riffle through the boxes, and discard unwanted items in a nearby alley, one Hill resident said.

Stark, whose family lives in the suburbs outside of Annapolis, Maryland, says she doesn’t have to worry about porch pirates there.

“Something can sit out there overnight and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I forgot. I think I got a notification that something was delivered,’” Stark said. “Here, I’m running out the door to make sure I grab it.”

A porch Pirate patrols the Capitol Hill neighborhood looking for packages. First District Metro Police Department Captain Michael Pulliam says there is a small number of repeat offenders who steal packages. (Courtesy of Mike Blinov)

In Capitol Hill, Stark says she has to be diligent when picking up her packages from her front porch.

“I’m paranoid about it now,” Stark said.

Stark also reroutes her packages to UPS or Amazon Locker instead of home delivery. Although Stark says it’s a “huge inconvenience,” she admits that it’s a bigger inconvenience to reorder what was stolen.

Robinson, who was burglarized when he lived in Phoenix, Arizona, says both experiences are a reminder to stay vigilant.

“It’s a not-so-friendly reminder that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine,” Robinson said. “Things do happen and we need to be aware. We need to take the precautions and not let our guard down.”

Satre, on the other hand, prefers not to contact the police when her package is stolen because of the undue burden it places on them.

“This is not worth the hassle of bothering the police because they will send out a detective and I don’t want to have a detective come out and interview me about my stolen AA batteries,” Satre said.

A Porch Pirate attempts to steal a bag from Robinson’s front porch. He leaves once he learns that there are only leaves inside. (Courtesy of Cameron Robinson)

Pulliam disagrees.

“Please call us,” Pulliam said. “This is why we’re here. We’re here to serve the citizens and it’s never a burden on us.”

“The First District Citizens Advisory Council, Inc. and the First District Police encourage residents to report through 911 or the Telephone Reporting Unit (TRU) when a package is stolen,” the First District Citizens Advisory Council said in a statement to The Wash.

“Policing is driven by numbers of reported crimes and when we know that a particular block has a high number of thefts, officers are deployed to that area in response.”

Pulliam says the best way to catch porch pirates is to record them with private surveillance and security cameras. “That’s how we make most of our closures.”

Residents who do not have Google Nest or a Ring video doorbell can purchase a security camera through Washington’s Private Security Camera Rebate Program.

Tobi Raji

Tobi Raji is a graduate journalism student interested in international politics and the welfare of immigrants, migrants and refugees. She covers Capitol Hill for The Wash and is a part of The Washington Post practicum team.

She is also an AmeriCorps and Rutgers University alumna.

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