Is it useful reporting stolen packages to the police?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

A reader asks:

“What do you consider protocol when packages are stolen? I see your articles about it happening, but is it worth it to tell police? This is now becoming a weekly occurrence for us in Shaw. Are cameras even a deterrent??”

44 Comment

  • I would like to see a centralized MPD system where people can upload their videos regarding crimes (non-life threating) and receive a response and reference #. Seems practical and helpful given today’s technology but is this a pipe dream?

    • Part of what you’re asking for exists – you can file a police report online for minor crimes not requiring an immediate police response. The link is on the website. I did it once when someone stole the battery out of my scooter. Someone called me back later that day to ask a couple of follow up questions, and you do get a case number.

      • Great thanks!!

      • Thanks, I had no idea that existed. I’ve had some minor thefts that went unreported because I didn’t want to do the in-person meeting with the cop (I had a traumatic experience with the police when I reported a burglary a long time ago, so I’m kind of scared of them).

  • Shaw here as well – we used to have a huge problem with package thefts. Now mail carriers know to put them behind planters or otherwise out of sight and we haven’t had one taken in months. I think most of these thefts are crimes of opportunity and a camera would most likley not stop anything as most wouldn’t even be aware they were being filmed. It would still be useful in catching someone but as a deterrent? Doubtful.

    • First thing you can do is to have the packages delivered to another location (work, FedEx or UPS store, etc). This is semi-inconvenient but certainly beats having all of your packages stolen. It’s unfortunate that it’s a crime of opportunity, but one of the ways to prevent it is to take away the opportunity.
      This used to be a huge problem when I lived in Glover Park, but despite a huge outpouring of rage on the listserv and lots of police reports, I don’t know that there was ever a solution.

      • I second that about Glover Park. One time, a spring in my washing machine broke and a new one had to be ordered. I got home one day to find that the package had been opened and the contents stolen. Seriously, who steals a spring?! The part was maybe $2, but I had to wait another week for a new one to come.

        • Yup! At one point I remember someone on the listserv saying they arrived home half an hour after FedEx had delivered (according to the tracking) and the package was already gone. Many theives just follow the truck, so trying to hide the packages doesn’t always work.

  • Live in shaw as well. Had a package stolen yesterday and the thief left the bag and receipt but took the goods.

  • I reported my package theft to MPD last May. I had a video of the thief stealing packages and MPD investigated the theft very thoroughly. Unfortunately, we were never able to learn the thief’s name. However I was very impressed with MPD and with the investigator!!

  • northeazy

    Yes, it is useful to report it to the police if only so you can be reimbursed by Amazon/eBay/UPS, etc., for a stolen item. A police report is required and their insurance will pick up the tab. (unless you specifically check a box, like with UPS, for them to leave the box when normally they would not based on the declared value).

    A drug addict who is in and out of prison lives in my building with him mommy or something and whenever he is out of the bing our packages always go missing so I have some experience with this.

  • -I think you should report it, even if it is only for statistical reasons, not because MPD is likely to make an arrest. But…you never know, they may make an arrest!
    – If you can afford a camera it may be a deterrent and would help an investigation. You may want to post a “Smile, you’re being videotaped!” sign for extra deterrence.
    – Sorry this is a weekly occurrence for you. If I were in your shoes, I’d be awfully tempted to set up the camera and leave a box full of cat poop (inspired by the above photo) along with a note inside that they were taped taking the package.

  • gotryit

    From my experience, a camera is not a deterrent. A guy stole a package off my porch one day, with obvious cameras (yes, multiple). Police recognized him and picked him up within a day.

    Maybe a deterrent for next time, but I think heroin addiction is a more pressing need, so he may just not care.

  • We had this problem, too. Gave video to the officers responding and they were happy to have it. Then the call came from a detective: Police department computers were so old and outdated they could not play the video. He referenced late 1990 Dell computers. Offered to donate more recent computers to MPD but he said they could not accept such donations. Finally we ended up getting a secure package drop box (a few hundred bucks) and the thefts stopped.

  • DC1

    For statistical reasons, sure…. otherwise pretty useless. I reported and submitted a few videos to MPD of packages being stolen and nothing ever happened nor they showed any interest in identifying the perpetrators.

    Cameras are somewhat of a deterrent, but I mainly use them to show the vendors when something gets stolen. They deal with the carriers (insurance-wise) directly and usually just re-ship or refund my purchase when I show the evidence.

  • I get all my packages delivered to Base Camp at 18th and Florida now. Worth the $2 a package to not deal with this nonsense.

  • 1. Cameras are not a deterrent unless people know they are there. Several of the videos I have seen of package thieves are from cameras inside the house that I doubt they ever see.
    2. This kind of film is only useful if they get caught because it can help as evidence for a conviction. Likely they will be caught for some other theft and then they add that one to the charges.
    3. UPS for one, has a bunch of these drop off locations now. Our UPS person sent my package there without me even marking the form and signing it. It was in a sketchy tire shop, but at least I got my package.
    4. One stolen package is all it should take for one to make other arrangements. It is crazy to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result….

  • justinbc

    Usefulness depends on whether your goal is to recover the package or to properly log crime statistics. The former is almost never likely to occur, but the latter could provide some use if MPD uses them and documents them correctly.

  • I was at the police station getting a parking permit the other day and someone was reporting that an Apple Watch had been stolen from their front steps. WTF are people doing getting Apple Watches delivered to their houses?! This is just dumb.

    Best way to avoid not having the package stolen? Don’t get it delivered to your house. I haven’t gotten anything delivered to home in 3+ years.

    • +1. Now I have a front desk that will take them, but my previous experiences just having them held at UPS or FedEx have been great (and they’re usually open pretty late, so no having to go during business hours).

    • And carry it all the home from VA on the metro? No thanks.
      I’ve been thinking about getting a lockable outdoor storage box to place under my stairs. I’d leave the padlock open and post a sign asking that deliveries be placed in the box and locked. Has anyone ever done something like this?

  • I also live in Shaw and my neighbor and I both had packages stolen a few months ago.
    You can and should file a police report on stolen packages. Here’s the link to file a police report online: You’ll receive a case number, and though it’s unlikely anything can be done to recover your particular package, it’s helpful for police to have a record of it.
    I’m not able to have packages delivered to my office, so I started leaving a note for delivery folks asking them to leave it in a spot where it’s less likely to be seen from the street. Haven’t had a problem recently.

  • I’ve had pretty good luck not getting packages stolen lately, but I generally try and time my deliveries for days when I’m home. My dad sent me a surprise gift a few months back, and surprise! – it was stolen immediately. File a report for insurance/reporting purposes but I can barely get the time of day from MPD for more serious crimes.

    I’d love them try to institute some sting operations, where they put a gps tracker in an iPad box on someone’s steps and then arrest whoever steals it. Being over $1000 they get hit with a theft in the first degree charge and taken off the street for a few months. Maybe that will work as a deterrent.

    • I’ve lived in DC for 5 years, and get several deliveries a week, and only had my first theft a couple months ago. That’s a better track record than when I lived in the suburbs. I live on a very busy street which probably helps.

  • This happened to me at my old building and MPD was useless. All I could do was file a certificate of stolen property because the security camera footage taped over and there were no witnesses. my advice is to get your packages at work.

  • thebear

    It is highly unlikely the police will be able to reunite you with your stolen purchase. However, it is very important that you do file a report and obtain a case # for it. Many merchants/shippers/your credit card may ask for that to substantiate the validity of your claim…particularly if you are reporting theft of an expensive item.

  • Definitely report it. The police need to know if this is a consistent problem. I had a package stolen and the police caught the guy because they had a task force out there specifically looking for this. (I’ll note that these guys appeared to very young it it looks like they stick there rookie cops in this which is smart). These thieves often follow UPS trucks around waiting for them to make a drop. So the cops do the same thing looking for thieves. If the cops don’t know this is an issue, the won’t know to remedy it. I got my package back.

  • Please report it. Use the online reporting tool. MPD is able to spot trends in the data and when a surge or uptick occurs in a certain neighborhood, will redistribute resources to combat it.

  • FYI – Ledroit Park Market at 4th and T st NW has a package pick-up service to prevent this type of theft in the neighborhood.

    If you live in Ledroit Park and can’t ship your packages to your place of work, or any other safe location, I would highly recommend using their service.

  • I just can’t get over the idea that people would be stupid enough to think a package could actually sit on their stoop for all the world to see and it would still be there when they got home at the end of the day. Even in the country, people don’t leave packages sitting out for all the world to see. At the very least, they have an established routine with delivery carriers, to put packages on the back porch or in a garage, or some other place that is hidden out of view.

    Beyond the suggestions listed above (Amazon locker, drop box, etc), all you have to do is google ‘package mail box’ and buy one and have installed at your house. They come in all sizes, shapes, styles, and costs. You won’t find one big enough to receive a delivery of a new tv or sofa, but it should handle most deliveries of books, shoes, etc.

    Of course, you could go old school and actually go to *real* store to do your shopping. This kind of thing was rarely a problem before people turned to internet shopping.

    • I have lived in Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, 5 different locations in Ohio, and now six different places in the DMV area and I have never, not once, had a package stolen. Neither have my parents. A few of the places in the DMV area have had a front desk that signs for packages so obviously those don’t count, but I’ve lived plenty of places where packages have just been left out when delivered. I understand advising people to consider alternatives, but it really bothers me that people say “well OBVIOUSLY they’ll be stolen, how dumb could you be?” Before I moved here I would never have considered it a possibility because it just didn’t happen anywhere I’d lived before. I’m sure plenty of other people are in the same situation – moved here and have never really encountered the issue before, especially those who have just moved from the Midwest/South or more rural areas.

    • Uh, speaking as someone who didn’t even live in “the country” but in a reasonably sized suburb outside a major city, I can tell you that people can – and routinely do – have packages left on their doorstep. Yes, if you’ve lived in DC long enough, you know that anything not anchored in concrete gets stolen within the day. This says way more about DC than it does about people who leave packages on their doorstep.

  • First of all if the package is MAIL then you call for the Postal Inspectors to investigate. If the package is from UPS or FEDEX then you call MPD. To avoid your package being stolen ask that the sender require a signature or have it sent to your job site. Requiring a signature means that the package must be signed for and if no one is home then the package will return to the home office for you to pick-up. Of course you can always purchase a parcel locker and have it mounted next to your front door, which can be an expensive action on your part or look into the less expensive means to receive your packages.

  • I live near H St. NE and got a camera and the package thefts stopped. My camera is not stealthy, it is right out there for the potential thief to see, pointed right at the juncture of the stairs to either go up to my house or down to my basement apartment. UPS/USPS/FedEx usually puts all packages under the stairs, but they still would get stolen. Now, I have no problems. So, I’d say a camera can be a deterrent, but it has to be visible to the potential thief.

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