SALT LAKE CITY – Police are searching for a suspect as they wrap up a two-day package theft operation aimed at cracking down on the crime that tends to spike in December.
The thefts have become one of ironies of the holiday season, when the very act of giving is interrupted by a package thief. But delivery drivers aren’t the only ones increasing in numbers this time of year. And thieves aren’t alone in hoping for a pick-up.
“This is the time of the year where we always know we’re going to have a lot more cases,” said Salt Lake City Police Det. Doug Steenblik, who works in the property crimes unit.
“It’s just the sheer number of packages that are delivered,” he said. “Our case load becomes huge because we’re dealing with so many of them.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Steenblik was one of several detectives involved in a package theft operation on Salt Lake City’s streets.
“One of things we’re always doing is playing catch-up,” he said. “And that’s why we like doing things like this because we can get out there and get in front of it, at least a little bit.”
On Wednesday, the department identified suspect Phillip Abeyta, 45, who has an active felony warrant. He’s suspected of “several package thefts, car prowls, and drug distribution,” according to a press release.
Police said he’s driving a Dodge Ram pickup truck that’s “green and tan in color with running boards with a temp tag on the back (possibly stolen). The truck has a dent in the back bumper and chrome wind screens along the top edges of the side windows.”
It didn’t take long for Steenblick to get behind a delivery truck as he headed out on the streets. He followed behind in an unmarked car and then watched as the driver dropped off a box on the porch where another package was already sitting. The driver quickly knocked on the door and then took a picture of the delivery.
“It’s so quick,” Steenblick remarked. “He’s already gone. We could walk right up to that porch and we could take that, and we could be gone.”
Out of sight, and Steenblik admitted, often out of handcuffs.
“I wish the percentage was higher, but it’s not that great,” he said.
The problem officers often face in responding to package thefts is a lack of evidence of the crime and information on a suspect. Sometimes the only evidence they have is that there’s nothing on their porch.
“Did you have a serial number for the item? Did you have surveillance for the item? Do you have a suspect for the item? If that baseline agenda can’t be met with those questions, we have to close the case up,” Steenblick said.
According a recent report from SafeWise, Salt Lake City ranks second behind San Francisco on a list of major cities where package thieves strike the most.
“By comparing FBI crime data to Google Trends searches for ‘missing package’ and ‘stolen package’ we were able to compare metro area package theft rates for the entire year and compare those rates to holiday-specific rates of theft,” the report said.
From what Steenblik has seen working in the property crimes unit, “A lot of it is drug money. It’s people who are trying to support a habit. They don’t have a job, and this is what they resort to.”
During a time of giving, police are also urging people to do what it takes to receive.
“Whether it’s a $20 item or a $2,000 item … you feel completely violated as a victim,” Steenblik said.