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'Tis the season for porch pirates: A look at Georgia's new porch piracy law

There was a lot of buzz when Georgia made porch piracy a crime separate from theft. Six months later, the number of package thefts is still hard to track.

ATLANTA — It was the holiday surprise Michaela Allen never hoped to see. Looking through her home video cameras, Allen saw someone snatch the mirror she was waiting to be delivered right off her porch.

“Seeing that video was like ‘Gosh, I feel really invaded,’” she said.

There was a lot of buzz when Georgia lawmakers officially made porch piracy a crime separate from theft. The bill was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 10 and went into effect on July 1

Nearly six months later, 11Alive checked in with more than a dozen law enforcement agencies around the metro inquiring about arrests and the overall number of package thefts and learned those incidents can still be hard to track. 

Only two agencies could easily report how many package thefts they've had since the law went into effect. 

Cobb County Police reported 55 incidents while Brookhaven Police reported 16, per police records. Nine other departments, including large agencies like Atlanta Police Department, DeKalb County Police Department and Gwinnett County Police Department, confirmed they don’t track stolen packages separate from other types of theft. Three departments did not respond to 11Alive inquiries.

“Our crime analysis does not specifically track package thefts. Everything is listed as theft-by-taking,” a Gwinnett police spokesperson explained via email, adding that their department, however, is working to update their reporting system to track porch piracy charges.

Only a handful of other law enforcement agencies confirmed they've had package theft cases that meet the parameters of the new porch piracy statute. 

“Every law has certain requirements,” Brookhaven Police Officer Andrea Garrett explained. “There are certain things that have to be met in order for us to charge that law.”

Georgia’s new porch piracy law aims to stop repeat offenders. Under the law, someone taking three or more packages from three or more addresses could be charged with a felony, though a judge has the discretion to reduce that charge to a misdemeanor.

Brookhaven Police reviewed their incident reports, and while clarifying that their package theft numbers are low, the agency confirmed four incidents of porch piracy that meet the requirements of the new law. One challenge for law enforcement, Garrett explained, is when people post videos of the thefts on social media instead of reporting to the police.

“Always around the holiday season, New Year’s, we always see an increase in that crime,” Garrett said. “And I think what's important to remember here is to always report so that can lead to an investigation.”

Allen did file a police report with her local department as well as alerted neighbors. Living on a busy street, she'd never had a problem with package thieves before, but said going forward, she would definitely be more vigilant.

“I definitely thought of a lot of things I would do more differently,” she said.

For tips to outsmart porch pirates this holiday season, click here

Once a package is successfully delivered, police urge caution when disposing of package boxes. Garrett recommends not leaving empty boxes on the curb, which could draw attention to new gifts and make a home a potential target for thieves.

While seeking perspective on package theft numbers in metro Atlanta, 11Alive reached out to the United States Postal Service and other carriers regarding implementation of the new law and received the following statements:

U.S.P.S: “Postal Inspectors will continue to work with our local law enforcement partners to identify and investigate individuals responsible for Postal Service mail thefts. This new statue allows local agencies to place charges against thieves for package thefts from all delivery couriers and should serve as a deterrence for anyone that commits this crime. If residents believe their mail was stolen it can be reported to www.uspis.gov or by calling 877-876-2455.” 

FedEx: “All year long we work with our drivers and service providers to be aware of their surroundings and report any unusual activities.  And when customers use FedEx Delivery Manager, our drivers and service providers follow the instructions on where and when they want their deliveries made, which helps protect everyone’s shipments. Any customer who suspects that a package has been stolen should contact police.”

UPS: “UPS customers can take control of their deliveries through the following options: 

  • Customers can sign up for a free service called UPS My Choice, which sends a proactive email alert that lets them know when their package is scheduled to be delivered.
  • If customers are at work during the day, they can use UPS My Choice to have packages delivered to where they work or a UPS Access Point location. They can also choose to have their deliveries sent to a relative or neighbor who is home during the day.
  • Customers can tell our driver where they would like packages left with UPS My Choice. For example, in the shed in the back yard, or behind the garage. UPS drivers can also enter that information into their handheld computers for future deliveries.
  • UPS recommends consumers contact the police if they believe a crime was committed.

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