PARMA, Ohio (WJW) — The holiday season is here, and so are thieves waiting to steal your gifts before you can even put them under the Christmas tree. One Northeast Ohio city is warning potential porch pirates that the boxes they steal might be a “bait package” planted by the police.
This is the second year for the city of Parma’s Project STOP, an acronym for “Stop Theft Of Packages.”
“If you want to steal packages in Parma, I suggest you go to another city, don’t come to Parma because we’re watching,” said Parma Sgt. David D’Eusanio.
Parma police are telling criminals that they have the technology to catch porch pirates in the act.
“We’re setting popular items out there, you know, popular companies — Walmart, Amazon boxes. So yes, we want them to come to us,” said D’Eusanio.
“The gifts they’re purchasing are of higher value, too, normally around the holidays, you know what I mean. People are purchasing gifts for family members. It’s not just their normal Amazon run that they get each month,” said Kammy Shuman, Parma’s Ward 7 councilwoman.
Some residents allow Parma police to put out bait boxes that have GPS units inside, allowing them to interact with the stolen package.
“It could be triggered by light movement, we can listen, we can take pictures, we can take video. So it’s real-time GPS. So as soon as the package moves, we have a vehicle in the area undercover — we’re watching this package — and then we have other units in the area,” said D’Eusanio.
“If a thief is silly enough to steal a package in Parma, and it’s a bait package, we’re gonna find it and we’re gonna prosecute them,” said Parma city law director Tim Dobeck.
He said package thefts are a bigger problem this time of year, but police believe the program is already working as a deterrent.
“Last year, it was over 30. This year, we only have about 17 right now,” said D’Eusanio.
“We’re also working with the state legislature to see if we could have this become a felony, a low-level felony,” said Dobeck. “Right now, stealing a package, depending on the value of the package, is typically a misdemeanor. Somebody coming onto your property is very bold and we think it should be treated more harshly.”
So far, Parma police have not caught anyone with the bait packages, but police believe letting people know about it has been a deterrent.
The bait package program costs about $5,000, but city officials say the money comes from seizures from arrests and fines paid to the court.
“There are so many things that are out of our control to help our residents with, and when we can introduce something like this, we’re gonna do it every day to try to help them feel good in their homes and living in the city of Parma,” said Shuman.