WEST VALLEY CITY – In the past 12 months, an estimated $5.4 billion worth of merchandise has been stolen off porches across the United States according to a recent survey by Finder.
Porches like yours. Porches like mine. Porches like hundreds, if not thousands, of Utahns this year alone.
In just the past few weeks, it has happened to people like Doreen Armstrong. She told us she lost, "About $1,500 worth of stuff."
It has happened to guys like Spencer Whiting.
"Even when you have cameras, it doesn't mean that you're safe," he said.
Even when you have cameras, it doesn't mean that you're safe.
It has happened to sweet ladies like Debbie Glade.
"I remember seeing a Chevrolet as I was running out the door screaming, 'Ahhh, stop,'" she said.
It has happened to UPS employees like Nick, who preferred not to use his last name.
"I jumped in my car and drove around the neighborhood in the directions I thought they could possibly go," he told KSL.
And it has happened to an estimated 35.5 million others across the country in the past year.
Catching the crooks
You have seen the videos, the suspects, and you've likely seen the stories. But what you don't often see, is what, if anything, is being done to fight it.
The KSL Investigators were invited to ride along on a two-day operation with Utah law enforcement last week, designed to catch porch pirates and prosecute them.
It started with a late morning briefing on Dec. 15, before the sting operations in West Jordan and West Valley City began.
"It's going to be a 'Class A' theft if anyone takes it," an undercover agent told the assembled team of officers.
The group included law enforcement from the Utah Attorney General's Office and local police.
"The objective is, we would like to have them leave the property," said the undercover agent. "And if we can, stop them down the street."
This sting operation and others like it are the direct result of a privately funded, combined effort with big-time retailers like Amazon. They lose billions every year because of lost or stolen items.
So, over the next few years, they are setting up undercover operations, hoping to catch the crooks.
Last week's operation involved 10 different porches, 10 different boxes and 10 different teams, waiting and watching for the pirates to strike.
"Each one has a GPS tracker in it, so the plan is we're out from now until 10 o'clock," said an undercover agent.
Agents said once a package is stolen, they will not chase the suspect, but rather follow from a distance while watching the GPS tracker.
Brendan Call, a special investigations agent with the Utah Attorney General's Office, said operations like this are necessary to help curb the criminal activity.
"We recognize this is a problem that needs to be prosecuted," said Call. "And we need to arrest these guys."
He said the primary reason porch pirates are rarely prosecuted, is because they are rarely caught.
Now, of course, doorbell cameras catch them all the time, but what you don't see is just how often it happens.
"A lot of these thieves are just so brazen that it (doorbell camera) doesn't seem to stop them," he said.
Research companies like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and C & R Research have shown 1.7 million packages are stolen or lost every single day in the United States. It's happened to 36% of those buying online, resulting in $25 million in lost goods and services daily.
"Porch pirates doesn't seem like a big thing, but it's rampant," Call said.
Rampant, because tracking the crooks down, and then proving they did it is often impossible – unless they are caught in the act.
Taking the bait
While nine of the packages in this operation sat untouched, on the second day, just 20 minutes into the sting, a box was stolen from a porch in West Valley City and tossed into an SUV.
When the couple who took the package realized they were being followed, home surveillance video shows them racing into a random driveway. They ditched the vehicle and casually walked away. Turns out, the SUV had been reported stolen in Salt Lake City.
While the suspects escaped police, they left behind a lot of evidence: More than a dozen stolen packages, a basket full of mail, a tossed jacket, fingerprints and their DNA.
The Utah Attorney General's Office said DNA has already directed them to a possible suspect.
"I do think there are [package theft] rings … that are very organized and very widespread and big," Call said.
Whether or not this couple is part of a larger ring, we don't know.
What we do know is they represent only a small fraction of a much bigger problem.
A problem, for people like Armstrong.
"Who do they think they are?"
A problem for guys like Whiting.
"So, people suck, you know."
A problem for nice ladies like Glade.
"How dare he! You know?"
A problem for UPS employees like Nick.
"It's … different when it happens to you."
And a problem this newly created task force hopes, to some degree, can eventually be contained.
"Just like any other crime, it's never going to go away," Call said.