Six days before Christmas last year, a FedEx driver pulled onto Vermont Street and dropped a package on Eunice Stephens’s doorstep while the Montrose retiree was out shopping. It was her weekly Blue Apron meal kit, but the driver left the box on the family’s doorstep rather than the usual spot behind a locked, gated area—perhaps because it was a different driver that day, or because the box was so heavy.
Not even five minutes later, a white SUV pulled up, and out popped a tall woman in a black sweater, leggings, knee-high boots, and reading glasses, her mousy brown hair pulled back in a short ponytail.
“I think she was just following the FedEx truck,” says Stephens.
The woman hurried up the driveway and looked blankly into Stephens’s Ring Doorbell before picking up the package, carrying it to her SUV, and driving away. There were no witnesses, unless you counted Stephens’s terriers, Luna and Wednesday, who liked to watch the world go by from their perch in the living room window. But her Doorbell recorded the whole thing.
Stephens made all the right moves after her package was stolen. She immediately called her constable, who referred her to HPD. An officer came out to take a report, and she shared the footage with him. She also shared the video of the real-life Grinch on Nextdoor, where, she adds, “There were already hundreds of these videos.”
But nobody recognized the thief, and like so many other porch pirates, she was never caught. The incident just made Stephens “more aware,” she says. On the bright side, her holiday packages arrived without a hitch, and her Instagram post about the theft was popular: She uploaded her footage with a caption that could be the title of a hit song: Bitch stole my Blue Apron.
Houston’s porch pirates are young and old, of every race and gender. They work solo and in tandem, stealing everything from wedding veils to dry-erase markers. Though HPD is unable to provide numbers on just how many such thefts are reported yearly, police do acknowledge that these crimes ramp up during the holidays, likely because of the sheer amount of goods being delivered.
“There are people out driving around looking for these packages,” says HPD Public Affairs Officer John Williams. “Nine times out of ten, criminals do come back to the same area.”
But you probably already knew that. During the last holiday season, package theft was so rampant in the Oak Forest area that local surf shop Surf House allowed customers to have packages delivered there. In the Heights, residents raised money for a woman who had so many deliveries stolen off her porch, she didn’t have any gifts for her autistic son. Miffed area residents have considered leaving boxes of dog poop or water snakes out for potential thieves—not the best idea, perhaps.
It’s a problem year-round, of course. Midtown resident Kyle Eddings has had six packages ripped off over the past couple of years, from health supplements to a $7 shower curtain. He and his neighbors are so familiar with their porch pirates, they have nicknames for them. There’s Backpack Guy and Shopping Cart Guy, who, by the way, did six months in jail for package theft before once again returning to his beat. “You have to be vigilant about tracking,” says Eddings, who has an Amazon Prime membership.
While Amazon delivered over 5 billion packages last year via Prime alone, the company is incredibly vague about what to do when it comes to missing packages. Officer Williams does have some advice, however.
“We look at crime as a triangle,” he explains. “One side is the target or victim, one side is the criminal, and the last side is opportunity—the desire for the criminal to commit the crime. The only part of the triangle we can control is the opportunity.”
Williams suggests having packages delivered to your post office. If you do get them at home, you’ll want to keep tabs on your neighborhood by heading to Houstontx.gov/police to view a map of recent thefts. You can also set up a specific time for delivery.
UPS drivers are trained to knock, ring the doorbell, and announce “UPS” at each drop-off. If a signature isn’t required, they’ll release the package and be on their merry way, which is why it’s usually best to require one.
Sometimes, though, drivers don’t follow protocol. In October Eddings had a pair of $150 sneakers taken two hours after delivery while his wife was inside their home working. “She didn’t know,” he says, “because they didn’t knock on the door.” His Zmodo camera did capture Backpack Guy wandering up to the townhome, which is tucked away inside a fairly quiet—but not gated—enclave.
It’s no surprise that Williams recommends getting a device like the Doorbell or Zmodo, which allow users to view live or recorded footage through a smart phone app, whether or not they’re home. Many culprits escape anyway, though. “The problem is when the footage isn’t clear,” says Williams. “It’s far more helpful if people can get a clear shot of the face, or even better the license plate, which we can use to cross-reference when we investigate.”
Shopping Cart Guy was actually busted the old-fashioned way. One day, weeks after filing another police report, Eddings’s wife randomly spotted the porch pirate on the street, followed him at a distance, and called the cops.
“They came, watched the video, and picked him up,” says Eddings. While officers were putting him in the squad car, a neighbor drove by and poked his head out the window.
“Hey,” he screamed. “See if he has my iPad."