How Amazon Helped Cops Set Up a Package Theft Sting Operation

Internal documents obtained by Motherboard detail the planning of an anti-package theft operation that used fake Amazon boxes rigged with GPS location trackers.

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Apr 11 2019, 5:54pm

Image: Cathryn Virginia

In response to Amazon packages being stolen from people's doorsteps, police departments around the country have set up sting operations that use fake packages bugged with GPS trackers to find and arrest people who steal packages. Internal emails and documents obtained by Motherboard via a public records request show how Amazon and one police department partnered to set up one of these operations.

The documents obtained by Motherboard—which include an operations plan and internal emails between Amazon and the Hayward, California Police Department—show that Amazon’s “national package theft team” made several calls to the Hayward Police Department and sent the department packages, tape, and stickers that allowed the department to set up a “porch pirate” operation in November and December of 2018. The documents also reveal that the bait Amazon packages included real-time location-tracking devices in order to surveil and track anyone who stole a package.

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According to an “Operation Plan” obtained by Motherboard, the Hayward Police Department referred to the porch pirate operation as “Operation ‘Safe Porch,’” and it lasted from November 12 to December 17, 2018. The document describes package theft in Hayward as a “significant problem” during the holiday season, and it characterizes Operation Safe Porch as a way to “arrest/prosecute those individuals committing this criminal activity.”

“The operation will emphasize a pro-active approach in the suppression of this criminal activity and with the use of ‘bait’ packages affixed with GPS tracking devices, Surveillance and Covert Operations, Probation/Parole Searches and potentially Search Warrants,” the document reads.

The document claims that the Hayward Police Department Criminal Investigations Bureau, units form the Hayward Special Investigations Bureau, and Hayward Crime Analysis all assisted with Operation Safe Porch. It also notes that the program was run four days a week, for 10 hours per day, and outlined the GPS, radio, and vehicles that were used in the program (including “an assigned undercover vehicle for surveillance and covert operations.”)

We don’t know if Operation Safe Porch resulted in the prosecution or arrest of any individuals. An email obtained by Motherboard from Hayward Police Department Sergeant Brian Maloney dated November 25, 2018 says, “So far, there have been no bites on our decoy package.”

“We have been targeting high traffic areas, good visibility of porches, and prior theft neighborhoods,” he continued. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”

However, Special Investigations Bureau logs obtained by Motherboard indicate that the operation continued for almost a month after that email was sent. The Hayward Police Department declined to comment for this story.

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The documents indicate the role that Amazon played in helping to organize the sting operation in Hayward, and the amount of planning that went into patrolling and potentially prosecuting package theft—a petty crime.

“We appreciate the effort by local law enforcement to tackle package theft in their communities, and we remain committed to assisting them in their efforts however we can,” an Amazon spokesperson told Motherboard.

The documents obtained by Motherboard also detail conversations between Amazon Logistics Loss representative Rob Gibson and Hayward Police Department Sergeant Maloney. The emails arrange the delivery of Amazon-branded boxes, Amazon tape, and lithium ion stickers. One email from Maloney requests 5 boxes, as well as tape and stickers. A later email from Gibson says that he will provide 10 Amazon-branded boxes, a roll of Amazon-branded tape, and more lithium ion stickers.

The emails reference several conversations between Amazon and the Hayward Police Department that occurred offline. In his first email to the Hayward Police Department, Gibson provides his cellphone number.

“I manage our national package theft team and heard that you might be looking for some assistance,” Gibson wrote in his first email to Maloney on November 7.

The Amazon representative who communicated with the Hayward Police Department was a “Logistics Loss Prevention” associate. According to the Amazon jobs website, Loss Prevention employees are tasked with protecting the “people, products, and information at each site and in the supply chain.”

“Specialists build data-driven investigations, conduct interviews, and monitor security risks,” the website reads. “Our managers implement programmes to prevent loss, manage Amazon assets, and lead teams of strong people.”

Several other cities around the country—including Aurora, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Jersey City, NJ; and Hayward, CA—have also conducted porch pirate sting operations aided by Amazon. Jersey City, NJ—like Hayward, CA—put GPS-tracking devices inside the dummy packages.

Aurora and Albuquerque, meanwhile, used doorbell cameras from Ring—which is owned by Amazon—to capture video footage and surveil for theft. A Motherboard investigation found that package theft is a focus for most posts on Neighbors, the “neighborhood watch” app owned by Ring. Users consistently claim that they hope for disproportionately severe punishment for people who steal packages from their doorstep.

Motherboard has published all of the documents that informed this article.

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