A recent editorial by the Willoughby (Ohio) News-Herald:

Online shopping offers a lot of added convenience for consumers, especially during the Christmas season.

After all, people in search of gifts can do their shopping from the comfort of their home or anywhere else that offers an internet connection.

To receive your purchase, all you have to do is watch for a package to be delivered to your front porch, pick it up and bring it in the house.

But you could come up empty if someone steals the package first. This crime has become so rampant that those swiping the parcels have earned a nickname — porch pirates.

Nationwide, package theft by porch pirates is proving to be a common and costly problem.

In fact, 43 percent of Americans have been a victim of package theft, according to a 2020 C+R research study.

That same study showed that 61 percent of respondents surveyed said they knew someone who had a parcel taken. In addition, the study revealed that $136 was the average cost of a stolen package.

Here in Lake County, we were pleased to learn about one area police department’s efforts to crack down on perpetrators who set out to steal packages placed on residents’ porches.

The Mentor Police Department is gearing up to deploy its undercover Porch Pirate Detail to prevent stolen packages as rates of online shopping continue to soar.

First launched in 2020, the undercover unit will be patrolling city neighborhoods looking for porch pirates, or suspects who take advantage of easy opportunities to snatch unmonitored packages from the doors of their rightful owners.

The detail will be utilizing specialized tools, including unmarked vehicles, surveillance equipment and bait boxes to try to cut down as much as possible on the number of packages stolen from residences over the holidays.

“A ‘bait box’ will typically be a delivery-sized box from Amazon, Fed Ex, UPS, or similar, and contain a GPS tracker,” said Mentor Police Chief Ken Gunsch. “We work with residents and obtain permission to place the package on their porch and then monitor if the package is moved — stolen — from the porch. We can then track the package via the GPS tracker and locate the theft suspect.”

Gunsch recalled that last year, the department was able to make a successful arrest because of the increased officer presence resulting from the program.

“That arrest resulted from a resident calling the police when they witnessed the suspect stealing a package from their porch,” he said. “We had officers in the area because of the program and were able to quickly locate the vehicle involved, recover the packages, and arrest the suspect.”

The police chief added that the most important things residents can do to protect themselves from porch piracy is track their online orders, remove them from the porches as soon as they’re delivered, or have them delivered to an Amazon storage locker if possible. Also, he said, residents may want to consider investing in security cameras.

“Finally, residents should stay aware of their surroundings and watch out for their neighbors,” Gunsch said. “Call the police if you see a suspicious person or car in the area. Call the police immediately if you witness a theft in progress. A quick phone call to the police when something doesn’t seem right is the best way for us to locate the person or vehicle and investigate further. Remember, ‘See something, say something’ helps protect our community.”

We commend Mentor Police Department for once again conducting the undercover Porch Pirate Detail, and hope that the program ends up nabbing some offenders.

At the same time, we encourage readers to follow some of the chief’s advice on how residents can prevent porch piracy at their own homes.

Finally, be sure to call police when you observe what might be a porch pirate in action.

Hopefully, steps like these will ensure that more delivered packages left on porches are retrieved by the person who ordered and paid for them.

— Willoughby (Ohio) News-Herald, Nov. 13