Stopping the Grinch: How to prevent package theft during the holiday season

With the holiday season in full swing, the Los Altos Police Department wants to protect its residents from the Grinch that often rears its ugly head this time of year – the package thief.

“We haven’t seen it hit us yet in this town this year, but we’re thinking (Black Friday) is really going to be the big weekend where a lot of people are ordering online,” Capt. Scott McCrossin said last week. “It’s just really imperative to take the steps to avoid being the victims of that.”

McCrossin’s biggest tip for safeguarding homes from package thieves? Install surveillance cameras.

“What we find is that cameras do actually act as a deterrent,” he said. “Some people like to put their cameras up and be very covert about it. I actually recommend that the cameras be visible.”

Not only could a homeowner’s cameras help catch thieves, they also may protect neighbors. McCrossin said cameras on the periphery of where a theft occurred often catch the vehicle the perpetrator fled in.

Lock and hold

In addition to surveillance cameras, McCrossin recommends having packages delivered to lockers, like Amazon Lockers – available in Los Altos at Safeway on First Street and Whole Foods Market on El Camino Real.

Sgt. Brian Jeffrey said he prefers to track his FedEx and UPS packages via the shipping companies’ mobile apps so that he knows exactly when they will arrive.

“You can actually do holds,” Jeffrey said of the mobile apps. “I can divert my package if I know I’m not going to be home. I find that’s really effective because, knock on wood, I haven’t had a package stolen yet and I’m not home all the time.”

Jeffrey added that homeowners can request that packages be diverted to a FedEx facility or UPS store to pick up themselves.

Another Los Altos Police Department tip for residents is to put packages – and mail – on hold when they are out of town. The U.S. Postal Service and FedEx both offer a free hold service, available for a time until packages can safely make it into a customer’s hands.

Prepping for package thieves

While there hasn’t been an uptick in package theft in the area so far, Jeffrey said the department is fully prepared to tackle the crime when it arrives.

“We’re doing some covert operations where we’re targeting offenders who commit package thefts,” he said. “We are out there doing stuff to prevent this. I think we’re going to step it up a little bit more this year.”

But Los Altos’ officers can only do so much – it takes residents to help bust those who steal boxes. Both McCrossin and Jeffrey emphasized how crucial it is to call and report suspicious activity to the police department – if you see something, say something.

“I don’t think we can stress that enough, that it’s our job,” McCrossin said. “There are a lot of false reports of suspicious activity. We get out there, we investigate it and find out everything is fine. We are not disturbed by that at all. We’re totally happy to do that.”

Neighborhood networking

Package thieves aren’t the only holiday Grinches appearing in November and December – empty homes can also become potential targets for burglars. Make sure the house looks occupied while you are away, said McCrossin, who recommended setting lights on a timer.

“If people are driving around neighborhoods in the day and they see lights on for several days at a time, chances are somebody might not be home,” he said.

McCrossin also advised letting neighbors know when you’re away so that they can keep an eye on your home.

Don’t know your neighbors? The Los Altos Police Department offers vacation house checks. Sign up online or at the station, located at 1 N. San Antonio Road, and an officer will periodically check up on your house while you’re gone.

For more tips on protecting yourself and your home from package theft and holiday burglaries, visit Residents are urged to report suspicious activity by calling the department’s nonemergency number at 947-2770.

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