Porch Pirates yearn to plunder ye sugarplum packages

Rhode Island ranks No. 2 in package theft, according to survey


Rhode Island’s pirates have evolved, crawling from the sea onto land and up your front porch steps.

More than 300 years ago pirates spent their summers trolling the shores of New England, raiding vessels for booty and befriending early America’s colonial politicians.

Now, modern day “Porch Pirates,” as they’ve been labeled by local police departments, roam the Ocean State’s neighborhoods searching for unguarded mystery boxes on doorsteps. They’ve abandoned the high seas for front lawns.

“By the 1690's, the legal system had become such a revolving door for pirates, there was no more punishment or justice than in the mock trials the accused were said to have in their leisure time,” according to the Pirates Realm, an online piracy publication. “It wasn't long before English trade officials were petitioning the king to remove Rhode Island's charter, and local leaders made the effort to change the policies.”

Unlike Rhode Island’s pre-Declaration of Independence stance on piracy, the state and its authorities have also evolved, no longer embracing romantic historical figures like William Kidd, Blackbeard, Henry Every, and Thomas Tew, who all recruited and took refuge in port cities like Newport and Providence.

“Piracy began to suffer in popularity in Rhode Island as elsewhere when the 1700's brought a larger number of merchant vessels to the region, when shop owners had more to lose than gain from the illegal activity,” explains the Pirates Realm. “There was no safe haven here by the early 1720's, when 26 pirates were hung outside Newport.”

We no longer hang our pirates. Local law enforcement agencies now merely issue package safety alerts and delivery tips. Police departments in Johnston, Cranston and Warwick occasionally post images from doorbell cameras showing hooded modern-day “porch pirates” slinking away from strangers’ homes carrying Amazon cardboard and padded postal envelopes.

“Similar to other communities across Rhode Island, we experience an uptick of these incidents around the holiday season, especially during the month of December,” Johnston Police Chief Mark A. Vieira said the week of Thanksgiving. “Due to the popularity of online shopping, we will be disseminating a warning regarding porch pirates.”

While porch piracy statistics remain fairly low so far this season, the criminal trend seems to follow the holiday calendar through Christmas.

“After a considerable period of time, a single incident of porch piracy took place on Thursday, Nov. 2 around 12 p.m.,” Vieira said. “The theft occurred at a residence on Hedley Avenue in which a package of blankets and pillows, valued at $160, was stolen.”

According to the Johnston chief, the larceny was captured on home video surveillance and the suspect was identified as Joseph Parra, 49, of Houston St., Providence.

“Parra was later arrested on a Johnston Police Department arrest warrant for misdemeanor larceny,” Vieira said, offering a long list of “tips to help protect packages from porch pirates.”

Johnston police recommend residents monitor their front porch with a security camera or a video doorbell. Electronically track packages and arrange for someone to pick them up immediately after delivery.

Police advise residents to have packages delivered when they plan to be home or have packages delivered to a place of employment.

“If possible, allow access to your garage or backyard where delivery drivers can leave your packages in a more secure location not visible from the roadway,” Johnston police have been telling residents. “Inform trusted neighbors about anticipated deliveries so they can assist in protecting your packages.”

Warwick Police have also investigated just a single case of porch piracy so far this holiday season.

The department’s Community Services Division Sgt. Matthew Moretti urged residents not to make it easy for thieves.

“This is a crime of opportunity,” he said.

If you get frequent deliveries, he suggested getting a locker, as Amazon provides, or investing in a safe. After placing an Amazon order you can chose to retrieve the delivery from a locker. When your package arrives at the locker the recipient will be notified by email with the location and times for pick-up.

A safe is an alternative that can be expensive but provides security at your home or business. A search of the web found a variety of safe options.

Following an incident of porch piracy, video surveillance can help police catch the culprit. The Ring website offers a number of security cameras and alarms at a monthly fee of $30, or $300 annually.

Homes close to the road and with a clearly visible porch and front steps where a package would be left are especially vulnerable, according to local police.

If that’s the case, Moretti recommends establishing a drop off out-of-sight from passersby, with your postal carrier or other delivery person.

Moretti does not see porch piracy as a form of gang activity, as can be the case with shoplifting.  Organized shoplifters typically target specific high-value items and devise means to elude detection by security as well as a getaway plan.

Porch piracy, however, has an air of unpredictability.

“They don’t know what they’re getting,” Moretti says of porch pirates. “It could be a delivery of toilet paper.”

According to a nationwide survey by Lombardo Homes, Rhode Island ranks as the nation’s second-worst state for package theft around the holiday season.

Their survey asked Americans about their experience with package theft and found “34% have had a delivery stolen, of those, 54% (were) victimized during the holiday season.”

“As we prepare to enter the rush of the holiday shopping season, a new study reveals 78% of Americans expect porch pirates to strike more after Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” said Digital Third Coast Media Specialist Maria Pearlman.

Porch piracy has been a major problem across the nation, for years.

In 2021, late Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza reached out to residents warning them to be vigilant.

 “‘Tis the season to be jolly and not be the victim of porch pirates,” according to Razza’s 2021 press release. “Supply chain issues have people shopping for that special gift earlier than ever, and porch pirates have an eye out for your home deliveries. If left unprotected, your packages may become the target of thieves.”

Lombardo Homes’ national survey also revealed “94% of Americans plan on having packages delivered this holiday season, and half say they’re worried about ‘porch pirates’ stealing their deliveries.”

“The worry over porch pirates is justified, especially in a package theft hot spot like Rhode Island,” according to the survey administrators and their public relations firm. “The report found Rhode Island is the second worst state in the nation for package theft, based off an analysis of total Google searches relating to package theft and piracy and compared it per capita.”

Their data also shows that “34% of Americans have had a package stolen,” “the average value of stolen goods” is around $219, three out five package thefts “occur during the holiday season,” and “39% of people surveyed said they are more worried about packages being stolen this year, than previous years.”

“With the holiday season upon us, the uptick of delivered packages being stolen from porches increases in Cranston and other communities,” said Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael J. Winquist. “We recommend recipients take precautions found on our social media page, including reporting suspicious activity to our police department as soon as possible. Doorbell cameras and other home surveillance devices can greatly deter this activity and provide important leads to our investigators.”  

On Tuesday, Cranston Police posted a warning on their social media accounts warning of package thefts during the holiday season. They offered a few more tips to protect yourself from a “porch pirate”:

• If you know a package is going to be delivered when you are not home, try to leave a car parked in the driveway.

• When choosing your shipping details, take a moment to check off “signature required.”

• Consider signing up for a paid service that will receive and protect your packages until you can pick them up. Major delivery services like Amazon, FedEx and UPS offer locker services.

• Install a porch lock box on your front porch for your packages to be placed in by the deliverer.

• Have the package delivered to the house of someone you know will be home during delivery.

• Install Security Cameras in a location that is obviously visible.

• And always report suspicious activity to local law enforcement.


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