Police Offer Tips To Keep Holiday Thieves At Bay

Doorbell cameras send notifications to homeowners' cellphones.

It may be the most wonderful time of the year … for thieves.

Last year, around the holidays, Southampton Town Police saw an uptick in thefts of packages that had been delivered and left outside area homes, a trend that officials speculated might continue this year.

Dubbed “porch pirates,” thieves steal newly delivered packages if they’re left on doorsteps when victims aren’t home. It’s a phenomenon reported in communities all over the United States.

Brian Babcock of East Quogue, a courier for Federal Express, recalled a famous local “porch pirate” story. In 2017, a couple from Bridgehampton was cuffed and charged with stealing packages from a Hampton Bays front porch. The homeowner had installed a motion-activated security camera, the kind that sends alerts of any activity near their front door via cellphone.

In the 2017 incident, the victim received two notifications on the morning of the crime — the first one let her know packages had been delivered, while the second showed them being purloined. Video of the larceny was posted on Facebook, and, according to Mr. Babcock, it went viral within 10 minutes.

It turned out, Mr. Babcock said, the pair had been following a delivery truck, stealing as they traveled all the way from Mastic to Hampton Bays.

This year, it’s too soon to tell if the numbers of South Fork porch piracies have increased or decreased, according to area law enforcement.

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said he was uncertain whether the proliferation of doorbell security cameras was proving a viable deterrent to the larcenies.
Last month, Consumer Reports predicted that doorbell camera purchases would play a big part in the almost $8 billion consumers are expected to spend on smart home camera systems in the United States this year. Consumer Reports quoted data insights firm Strategy Analytic’s forecast: “The global smart home camera market will top $7.9 billion in 2019, and surge more than 60 percent to nearly $13 billion in 2023.”

East Hampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Dan Toia also said it was “too soon to tell,” but so far this year, the department had received no reports of items stolen from front porches. In 2018, from November through the end of the year, police logged no complaints about porch package thefts.

More people do have door security cameras, Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire said. He reported that community members using Ring’s Neighbor app — in which residents with the cameras form a cyber Neighborhood Watch — recently alerted each other to a suspicious person walking down Williams Street in the village, looking into parked cars. They didn’t call the police, but once his department learned of the incident, officers were able to step up patrols, the chief said.

In general, Chief McGuire said the department doesn’t see many porch thefts in Sag Harbor. “The houses are so close together, and everybody’s up in each other’s business,” he said.

Chief Skrynecki offered a bounty of holiday tips for ensuring residents’ yule is crime free.
Avoid having a car stolen from shopping malls by locking the vehicle and not leaving the fob in the car, he said. Thieves look for high-end cars that start by the push of a button. If it is unlocked, they need only open the door and press the button and the car is gone.
Shoppers should avoid leaving purchased items in plain view in their car. That’s an invitation to a break-in, he said.

While shopping, women should carry their pocketbook closed and clasped shut, with the strap across their body, rather than on their shoulder to make it difficult to remove. People should never leave a pocketbook on a counter or in a shopping cart unattended.

People should be cautious when sharing personal information when purchasing items online. They should make sure they are dealing with reputable companies and that they are initiating the transfer of information rather than responding to someone asking for it.

Consumers should make sure no one is behind them to read their PIN when using an ATM and should check the device for added skimming equipment that records transactions and personal information, he said.

As for porch thefts, the chief said residents may keep them at bay by arranging to have packages delivered when someone’s at home. Speaking to the last year’s significant increase, Chief Skrynecki said he’d like to see it quelled.

“We encourage neighbors to be on a Neighborhood Watch circuit, either online or the old-fashioned way,” he said. “We support that.”

Often, he noted, neighbors or people who travel certain sections of town regularly are key to helping to solve crimes.

Told of Chief McGuire’s story of neighbors alerting each other, but not the police, Chief Skrynecki said: “That is a fundamental mistake.” He said he believes people need to realize that merely taking note and reporting unusual behavior “is not accusing.”

There’s nobody better to recognize when something is out of place than the person who lives there, in the neighborhood.

“We can’t be everywhere at all times,” he said, noting the rural nature of the South Fork. “We rely heavily on people who live or work in an area to give us a heads-up. Many residents are very diligent, and we get some great tips.”