Packages sitting on a porch
Philomath police’s operation to stop holiday package thefts had positive results in December with just one delivery reported as stolen. (Getty Images)

Although there may have been a trend over the past few years of more shoppers utilizing the convenience of ordering Christmas gifts for home delivery, it most certainly reached new heights in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on.

In most cases, delivery services leave packages on the porch or leaning up against the front door. It’s just too inviting for some small-time crooks to snag those packages for personal profit.

Philomath in past years has not been immune from packages disappearing from home residences during the holiday season. But in December 2020, theft statistics from the local police department saw a new low — just one package reported stolen.

Ken Rueben, Philomath’s chief of police, said that during the 2019 holiday season, there had been six packages stolen. The holiday season is defined as running from Thanksgiving to the end of the year.

Philomath Police participated in a three-pronged approach to try to eliminate holiday package thefts, Rueben said, while partnering with Benton County Sheriff’s Office Det. Matt Moser and U.S. Postal Inspector L. Randy Delfin.

The police department’s offensive against crooks included the planting of bait packages, proactive policing and working in conjunction with delivery companies.

“We put two bait packages out in Philomath during that whole time frame that had electronic tracking devices inserted inside the package,” Rueben said. “We put one at a house on Applegate Street and one at a house in the Neabeack Hill area. Every day, we monitored those devices on an electronic mapping system that was provided to us by the U.S. postal inspector’s office.”

Through that system, if the tracking device in the package was moved, an alarm would go off.

“All the officers at the police department were provided with a link to the site so that if the alarm went off, an officer would be notified by a text message that the package is moving,” Rueben explained.

But instead of just sitting in the office and watching an electronic mapping system, Rueben wanted to take it a step further with a more proactive approach. The police department rented an undercover vehicle.

“We staffed it with an officer at various times of the day throughout that period of time to do proactive patrols looking for suspects that may be casing locations and looking for packages on porches,” Rueben said.

The third component involved working in partnership with delivery companies.

“We met with the full-time FedEx, UPS (United Parcel Service) and the postmaster here in Philomath and explained to them what we’d be doing,” Rueben said. “We gave them a direct line (phone) number to our office staff so if they saw a suspicious person or a person that was following their truck or walking around in areas where they had just delivered packages, they would be able to tip us off.”

Rueben said the delivery companies called in “several times and identified vehicles that they believed were following” them. Police were then able to make contact with those suspects.

In addition, the chief believes there was another reason that factored into the low crime rate.

Rueben believes past offenders of such crimes became aware of the police presence and as a result, “they learned quickly that we were out watching for people stealing packages … I think that made a difference.”