Cracking down: New law targets ‘porch pirates’ with tougher penalties

By Jan Murphy
Pennlive.com

It’s easy for so-called “porch pirates” to snatch packages from your front door or apartment building stoop, and amid the rise of online retail giants, like Amazon, package theft is in the spotlight.

December is high season for so-called “porch pirates” stealing people’s Christmas gifts before they make it under the tree. But a bill that Gov. Josh Shapiro signed last week creates a new criminal offense specifically targeted at home delivery package thieves.

What it does: Creates a “theft by mail” crime that applies to the unlawful taking, transfer or exercise of unlawful control over another person’s mail, including letters, packages, bags and more, with the intent of depriving them of it. The penalties get stiffer with each additional offense, depending on the value of the item stolen.

What are the penalties? A first offense for stealing an item less than $200 in value is punishable by up to 90 days imprisonment and/or fine of up to $300, while a second offense is punishable by up to two years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

A first or second offense for stealing an item of greater value is up to five years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000 while a third or subsequent offense is punishable by up to seven years behind bars and/or a fine of up to $15,000.

Why it’s needed: With online shopping reaching unprecedented levels, package theft is growing nationwide, said Sen. Frank Farry, R-Bucks County, the bill’s sponsor.

He pointed to a Forbes article that indicates Americans spent $1.7 trillion shopping online since 2020. It found nearly 8 in 10 Americans had a package stolen last year with an estimated value of $19.5 billion. A separate report by construction company Lombardo Homes found 54% of people have had a package stolen during the holiday season.

New measure welcomed
Amity Township Police Chief Jeffrey Smith welcomed the updates to the criminal code to help police combat thefts of delivered packages.

“People (thieves) are literally following delivery trucks around — Amazon, UPS and even grocery services,” he said. When the delivery truck leaves, they go onto the porch, steal the package and return to their car that is usually parked around the corner. Smith believes the changes will be a deterrent, especially for repeat offenses because penalties will increase with each subsequent offense as it does with retail theft. “I feel bad for people who spend their hard-earned money to buy something for themselves or to give as gifts and have it stolen as soon as the package is delivered,” he said.

Taking precautions
Home security cameras help police tremendously, Smith said, adding that Amity police have made a number of arrests of suspects with the help of social media after police post images of the thieves.

To avoid becoming a victim, Smith urges residents to sign up for notification services so they will be alerted by text when a package is delivered. If you’re not going to be home when the package is delivered, you can alert a trusted neighbor to retrieve the package for you, he said.

Another option is to have a package delivered to a secure pickup location. Amazon and UPS have parcel locker systems where carriers place customers’ parcels inside a locker for safekeeping until the recipient collects them.

Evolving laws
With this law about to take effect, Pennsylvania joins eight other states — Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas — in having a porch piracy law.

Farry — who joined with Bucks County House members to sponsor a package of bills combatting evolving crimes such as organized retail theft and theft of catalytic converters —said the crimes code needs to be updated to t the types of offenses occurring in today’s society.

“The reality of it is when you talk to law enforcement and you talk to prosecutors, they say you have to ensure there’s criminal statutes that match the crimes being committed,” Farry said. “Twenty years ago, none of this was going on.” Rep. Kristin Marcell, who along with fellow Bucks Republican Rep. KC Tomlinson sponsored a companion porch piracy bill in the House, said: “Package theft has impacted almost two million Pennsylvanians. When you consider the median value of stolen packages are valued at $50, you can see this crime leaves a sizable nancial toll on families and businesses, not to mention the emotional distress of having your personal property violated.” Tomlinson said the idea of the increasing penalties for repeated offenses is hoped to serve as a deterrent.

Farry added that beyond the value of the items that are stolen, the offense can take an
emotional toll.

“Working families are struggling to make ends meet with in ation, and if somebody steals a couple packages from their porch that are Christmas gifts for their kids, it’s not just the value of that theft,” he said. “The personal impact of not having those gifts for the kids is real.”

The law doesn’t go into effect for 60 days.

 

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