The U.S. Postal Service is partnering with Arkansas law enforcement and federal prosecutors to target thieves who steal packages off Arkansans' doorsteps.
Officers will leave bait boxes in the hopes of luring criminals who think the boxes are packages, said Mona Hernandez, a team leader with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
"We can't get them all, but we're going to get as many as we can," said Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The maximum federal sentence for this crime is five years in prison. Hiland said that because parole is not available for federal crimes, there is the possibility that he will be able to advocate for longer sentences for these criminals.
Officials are referring to the partnership as "Operation Porch Pirate."
Hiland announced on Monday the unsealing of the first criminal complaint from Operation Porch Pirate.
Police arrested North Little Rock resident Michael Crutchfield on state charges related to package theft on Nov. 30. Because the Postal Service delivered two of the packages, the case is within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The complaint charges Crutchfield, 57, with a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1708, Theft or Receipt of Stolen Mail Matter, a felony.
He is the first and only person that officials with the operation have obtained a federal arrest warrant for thus far, said Chris Givens, the public information officer for the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Crutchfield will be arraigned by a U.S. magistrate judge and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
In the Operation Porch Pirate initiative, the U.S. attorney's office is working directly with the Postal Service, and any Arkansas law enforcement agencies may go through the Postal Service to report package theft for federal adoption, Givens said.
Hiland said that through the operation, he hopes to prevent families from having their gifts stolen during the holiday season.
"It's obviously not the crime of the century, but it is a crime having a significant impact on our local communities," Hiland said.
Nationally, 26 million packages were stolen in 2017, said Duane "Dak" Kees, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. That was up from 23.5 million stolen packages in 2015. The average family spent $200 trying to replace the stolen packages.
This holiday season, the Postal Service expects to make 16 billion deliveries, Hernandez said. Annually, the Postal Inspection Service arrests approximately 2,400 people for package theft.
The Denver Police Department has been keeping track of package theft since 2015. Officers saw the number of thefts jump by more than 100 last year.
Doug Schepman, a spokesman for the department, said Denver officers have been focusing on educating the public about ways they can avoid having their packages stolen.
"Prevention is really key here," Schepman said.
Alice Fulk, the interim Little Rock Police chief, said Arkansans can take steps to reduce their chances of having their packages stolen. She suggests sending their packages to friends or family members who are retired or to their work places. Kees said Arkansans can also require that delivery workers obtain their signatures when they receive a package.
Schepman said these steps are important because officers can struggle to make an arrest in this type of crime, which typically has little evidence. He added that when victims have surveillance cameras that catch the crime on video, arrest is more possible.
The Elk Grove Police Department in suburban Sacramento, Calif., enacted a similar bait-box program to Arkansas' last week, officer Jason Jimenez said. The boxes contain trackers that alert officers when people move them. Typically, when the department deploys bait boxes, officers are in the area conducting surveillance.
Elk Grove, which has about the same population as Little Rock, has not caught any criminals through the bait-box program as of Monday afternoon.
Jimenez said the program is relatively common. Two neighboring California agencies rely on bait boxes to catch thieves.
Metro on 12/18/2018
Print Headline: Postal Service, lawmen pursue 'porch pirates'; North Little Rock suspect’s case is operation’s first