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New law, technology, and old-fashioned police work fight holiday crime

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, especially for thieves.

Fortunately, law enforcement has several tips for stopping Grinches.

During the holidays, the number of thefts rise. In fact, an Allstate Insurance study found that more homes are broken into on December 1 than any other time of the year.

It’s no coincidence that day follows the busiest shopping days of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

“Porch pirating is one of the biggest problems you’ll see, especially this time of year,” said Capt. Chris Decker of the Granite Shoals Police Department.

Porch pirates steal mail and packages left outside a home, usually on the porch. As online shopping and home deliveries rise, so, too, does the act of porch pirating.

A new law in Texas went into effect September 1 to fight this crime.

“House Bill 37 is a big change for fighting mail theft and porch pirating, particularly,” Decker said.

HB 37 ups the punishment for stealing mail or packages.

“It used to be about the value of the items taken, but now … it’s about the number of items,” Decker said.

Under the new law, it’s a Class A misdemeanor for stealing fewer than 10 items, a state jail felony for 10-29 items, and a third-degree felony for 30 or more items.

“And if they knew or believe the person was disabled,” Decker said, “it jumps up one level.”

Prevention is key to protecting yourself against holiday thieves, Decker pointed out.

“When you are getting something sent to your house, we recommend the number one thing is to make notes for the carrier,” he said. “With most carriers, you can leave notes online with them. Let them know if there’s a place on your property you want them to leave the packages. You can even leave a note on your door.”

Of course, it’s always good to be home to receive packages, and with modern tracking data, you have a good idea when something will arrive. If you can’t be there, ask a neighbor to accept delivery.

Some online services such as Amazon even offer secure lockers where people can have items sent.

Another crime-fighting invention is the smart doorbell, which has a video component and alerts the homeowner to someone approaching their door.

“The new electronic doorbells that allow you to see who’s at the door are a great thing to have,” Decker said.

The gadget lets a person monitor their front door even if they’re somewhere else. Recently, the Granite Shoals Police Department received a call from a resident who was at work when his smart doorbell alerted him to a pickup truck at his home. Officers responded, but determined it was a work crew who had arrived a day earlier than planned.

“It wasn’t anything bad, but it shows you how these are such great things for helping prevent crime and helping solve it if it does happen,” Decker said. 

Police have used the video footage from these devices to track down thieves.

Other tips in preventing thefts are not high-tech but still effective, like always locking the doors to your home and vehicle and not “advertising” to thieves when you’re away from home on vacation.

“Don’t leave your trash cans out, stop your mail and the newspaper,” Decker said. “Leave some lights on with a timer. Have someone check your house while you’re gone.”

The police can even keep an eye on things.

“When people are out of town or traveling, our department — and, I believe, all departments in the county — offer a close patrol,” Decker said. “You just call dispatch, let them know you’ll be gone, and an officer will come by a couple times a shift to check on your house.”

Decker also cautioned travelers against discussing plans on social media, before and during a trip. Wait until after you return before posting vacation photos, Decker said.

And after all the Christmas presents have been unwrapped, break down boxes and tuck them into a trash or recycling container rather than in plain sight on the side of the road for pickup.

“If you got a brand new TV, you don’t want to let everyone know by putting the empty box out there by the road for everyone — especially the criminal types — to see,” Decker said.