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Chronicle of a Porch Thief

Chronicle of a Porch Thief

Systems failure.

This Atlantic article describes how home surveillance cameras have helped catch thieves who steal packages – predominantly Amazon packages – from porches in a San Francisco neighborhood. The attitude of the author is somewhat ambiguous, but as best I can determine she seems to lean slightly more towards sympathy with the thieves (in particular one thief who is described at great length) than with the victims of the crimes.

For example:

While porch cams have been used to investigate cases as serious as homicides, the surveillance and neighborhood social networking typically make a particular type of crime especially visible: those lower-level ones happening out in public, committed by the poorest. Despite the much higher cost of white-collar crime, it seems to cause less societal hand-wringing than what might be caught on a Ring camera…

In Potrero, Fairley had been captured on camera enough times, snatching packages or walking down the street with bundles of mail, that many in the neighborhood had a face and a name to attach to their generalized anger about ongoing nuisances. Fairley was correct in thinking that, in many cases, Amazon will replace pilfered packages. Her major miscalculation was in thinking that her neighbors would, therefore, just shrug and move on.

It’s hard to convey the flavor of the article without quoting at great length from it, but the general feeling I got was that stealing Amazon stuff from rich people’s (or middle-class people’s) porches is upsetting and wrong, but no biggie! We can also forgive the poor drug addicts (particularly if from minority groups) because it’s poverty and addiction that drives them.

The other sense the article conveys is how well Fairley (the porch thief featured in the article) plays the game of self-justification. She minimizes her offenses and plays the race card with great frequency. Here’s a sample:

Arnold began combining the neighbors’ Fairley-related posts in a single document. They started with the first dispatch, from May 2017, with Margett photographing Fairley and her daughter. In October of that year, a friend of Arnold’s, then a VP at Flipboard, followed Fairley in his Prius, watching her go door to door collecting packages—a mail carrier in reverse. In November, a cam caught a lithe woman who looked like Fairley crawling up a home’s steps to seize a fat Amazon pouch of lug nuts, a rosary dangling from her neck. Two weeks later, neighbors were gardening on a shared strip of land when Fairley passed by balancing a long lamp box on her shoulder. (Fairley claimed that the box contained her own headboard and lampshade.) Seeing an address written in big letters for a home in the opposite direction, one of them grabbed the box and demanded to see an ID to prove Fairley lived there. A second man called 911 as a woman videoed Fairley’s ensuing tirade: “That’s why people get shot. You don’t pull somebody’s package off their fucking arm,” Fairley snapped, then stalked off.

And then there’s the failure of San Francisco’s legal system as well as the system to treat addiction (although of course the situation is not limited to that city):

…Fairley regularly skipped her hearings—she’d lose track of the dates, she later told me, and just had “a lot going on”—which slowed the process of resolving the cases. Again and again, in her absence, the judge would issue bench warrants, and Fairley would eventually be arrested and booked into jail, from which the judge would release her to await her next hearing, with demands that she report to diversion programs or Narcotics Anonymous meetings—all while neighbors continued to report on Nextdoor that they were watching her steal mail.

Fairley is given many chances in many rehab programs, all of which she manages to flunk. Then, as her life spirals down from an already-low point, she loses more and more: her possessions, her public housing, her daughter. At no point does she show any inclination to take responsibility for her situation.

It’s hard to imagine any good ending to Fairley’s story; her problems seem deep-seated and intractable, her way of life ingrained and habitual. What percentage of petty criminals resembles Fairley? How many are capable of change and how many strongly resistant to it?

Would more prison time have made a difference in Fairley’s trajectory? At the very least, it would have sent her a different message and would have given the residents of the Portrero neighborhood a break from her thievery.

Or would it have? As this depressing article also makes clear, even when Fairley was unable to make her rounds because she was in rehab programs, other thieves took up the slack and kept stealing the low-hanging fruit – the Amazon packages – from the porches of Portrero.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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I guess if the judicial system continues to allow this my suggestion is don’t have packages delivered to your stoop. Amazon will also deliver to a locker at one of their locations.
Glad I’m not a resident of Kalifornia.

    bw222 in reply to Yamamma. | November 5, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    As long as Fairley’s individual thefts are under $950, she cannot be charged with a felony in Kalifornia. So if she steals $300 worth of stuff off one porch and $800 off another, she can only be charged with a misdemeanor.

      venril in reply to bw222. | November 6, 2019 at 9:47 am

      They will, however, still be liable for a serious ass kicking. Hard to repeat when you’re in traction.

It doesn’t happen where I live but I’m in Wyoming in a very Christian small town. Thou Shall Not Steal is lived out as well as charity.

But this also goes to 4th Generation War. The Government – the State is given its legitimacy in order to protect people and property.

Systems failure? If any of those middle class victims got a parking ticket and failed to pay, the big bad government would come down hard on them.

Doing something about the Porch Pirate is complex and hard, so nothing happens. But it is easy for the state Morlocks to exploit the Eloi. Besides, “racism”!. The Porch Pirate checks more victim boxes.

This is likely to flip suddenly when people snap. Note that in their high priced state, they can’t even keept the electricity on – part of the problem is too much wind forces the windmills to stop (they would turn too fast to maintain the 60 Hz power). Fires. Perpetual water shortages. Homeless Hoovervilles.

Oh and now with the steal anything under $950 and the cops won’t bother is creating both aggressive street theives and organized crime flash mobs, putting them out of business.

This is where the theory of prison just doesn’t work – Fairly doesn’t need prison, she needs to be beaten severely every time shes’s caught. Flogging is out of fashion, but that would do more to deter her than 10 years of prison time. Bring it back.

Oh, really? “Lower-level crimes, committed by the poorest”? Sure, because they spend every last dime on drugs and tattoos.

What ever happened to a good old-fashioned ass beating? These scum are trespassing and stealing, and need to be beaten and then arrested.

The common need among hard core long time homeless:
Drugs/alchohol, food and shelter. Trying to manage homelessness with liberalism is like…well, senseless.

Meanwhile, neighbors across the street from the porch camera have their every coming and going recorded and disbursed who knows where and to who knows whom.

    TheOldZombie in reply to stablesort. | November 5, 2019 at 9:37 am

    As someone who has a “porch camera” I can tell you from experience that most cameras are not going to be able to see the neighbors house if it’s properly mounted. The goal is to see your porch and not your neighbors house.

      stablesort in reply to TheOldZombie. | November 5, 2019 at 9:41 am

      Doorbell cameras have have a wide angle view directly down the sidewalk and across the street.

        danvillemom in reply to stablesort. | November 5, 2019 at 10:18 am

        Nobody would use the wide angle because the alerts on your cell phone would be going off non-stop – every time a car goes by the street etc. The police in my town capture a picture of every license plate coming in to the city and have used it to capture the porch thieves and car thieves etc. The police are also happy to use the Ring videos to prosecute the thieves.

          stablesort in reply to danvillemom. | November 5, 2019 at 2:12 pm

          I understand the desire to use these cameras, but still object to their usage. Even if 99% of the owners don’t abuse the camera the potential for abuse is very high.

          Users of such cameras can readily determine their neighbor’s working hours, how many children live at home, when their children are home alone, what kind of parties they have, who their friends are, when nobody is at home, when they are on vacation, etc.

          Google, Amazon, etc. will have access to all this information and so will anybody who hacks google, amazon and so on. So while nefarious neighbors are a real threat, the ‘cloud’ is an even bigger threat.

…but the general feeling I got was that stealing Amazon stuff from rich people’s (or middle-class people’s) porches is upsetting and wrong, but no biggie!

No biggie…until they start stealing HER stuff.

Even businesses incentivize behavior similar to this. Many years ago, I worked for a retailer who had a store policy that if a person grabbed something off the shelf and walked out the door without paying for it, the only thing to be done was to call the cops, give a description, and that’s it. The cops would do little to nothing, and the same criminal was back in the store a week later. Rinse and repeat. The criminal eventually tells his criminal friends who start doing the same thing. Some of these punks would grab DVDs, stuff them in their coat with employees looking on and say “cant do shit to me” as they happily walked out the door. That retailer eventually went out of business around 2007.

    TheOldZombie in reply to jaudio. | November 5, 2019 at 9:26 am

    And you know whats worse is that the retailed than turns around and blames the employees and the managers. No retailer you’re at fault. Once the thieves know nothing will happen to them in your store they will attack en masse like a pack of Hyenas.

    BobM in reply to jaudio. | November 6, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    I worked for a retailer that went out of business around that time, maybe the same one? Our upstate NY location didn’t have a “total hands off” policy, we were allowed to confront shoplifters and follow them to get license plates – but anyone but managers were discouraged from using starting the use of force to apprehend them.

    Major loss issues (besides the inevitable employee issues) were the professionals.
    Close enuf to the border that Canadian counterfeiting (of US money) rings would occasionally farm out “passers” to visit US stores like us. Using a 100 to buy a stick of gum usually didn’t work. Usually.
    “Shoppers” with foil-lined purses or bags who would load up while their partners would ask the area clerk for help finding something. (Big store, sometimes only one clerk per quarter.)
    Bigger “Flash-mob” groups who would each load up on the hot new music/movie release, then either exit with de-alarmed copies or if caught run for it all together. We might get in a hundred of the new hot Disney movie and find a display endcap empty of the product. The “entrepreneurs” selling new DVDs from folding tables on front lawns in my neighborhood were one obvious outlet for those the police didn’t want to deal with.

    Even casual shoplifters/scammers took a serious bite. I’m not saying thievery was the only reason our chain went under, but it was at least a factor. Too many customers seemed to feel the bigger you were the more entitled they were to take advantage. It was surprising how many returns of product didn’t contain the actual product – if checked carefully. And even if a kosher return most returns couldn’t be resold as new so they were a loss. We had one older couple who every month would load up on up to $500 of toys and games and inevitably return them a week later. Turns out their grandkids would visit once a month and they were using us as a toy lending library. Management was reluctant to cut them off (lenient return policy, minority couple, afraid of “you’re just racist”) until one day a regional manager was visiting at the same time they were and was willing to risk the hit.

we are fortunate in our little part of the world to have neighbors of long standing who look out for one another–have had only one incident in the last ten or fifteen years–as we’ve known each other for a long time we have a pretty good handle on each other’s habits, vehicles we drive, regular visitors who come and go, etc.–we are proactive

if physical response just isn’t you, would recommend pepper spray–in the eyes–while the perp is on your property–retrieve your item(s) and call the law

there are other permanent solutions available for individual thieves but not readily discussed in public forums

the core issue in all of this is not the homelessness/addiction/career criminal way of life but that the civilized part of the world, via liberal policies, has removed any consequences for outright stealing–what the hell should you expect from the thieves when law enforcement, under duress from the dems/leftists, actually states that there will be no action/prosecution/consequences for items/property under X$$$s value?

when the police/law enforcement publicly state that they will do nothing then it is up to us

so be it

    amatuerwrangler in reply to texansamurai. | November 5, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Its the same thing as DIY projects around the house. When what needs fixing is too small a job for a proper contractor to take on, then we learn to replace our own faucet washers, re-attach loose tiles, or fill cracks in the walkway. When the authorities tell you that they won’t get involved with your problem, you become DIY in one more category.

Who steals from the porch of rich people? Most rich people live in communities where there are no porch pirates or if not in a community they have nice huge fences. Some even have staff.

No your average porch pirate is stealing from others in the same neighborhood that the porch pirate lives in. Your average porch pirate is stealing from your average American family.

If we are going to call them porch pirates than maybe we should apply nautical law from sailing times to them and hang them when caught.

    To combat porch pirates, I have a fenced yard with two Belgian Malinois. I have teeth marks in everything delivered, but never a missing package.

      The Friendly Grizzly in reply to Andy. | November 5, 2019 at 12:35 pm

      Please send my greetings to your two Belgians. One fur-face to another. I love Belgian Mals.

There are ways to discourage this kind of thing. Here’s an example of educating bike thieves.

There’s gotta be a porch thieves version.

    Place rattlesnake in package. Place package on doorstep.

      LeftWingLock in reply to Barry. | November 5, 2019 at 11:14 am

      There is a video out on youtube of a guy who put together a package that spewed out several pounds of glitter plus skunk scent when it was opened. He put (cheap) recording cameras in it plus GPS so he could pick it up later. Very funny videos.

The city will move to correct this problem, no doubt. They will prosecute the home owners for video taping these upstanding citizens without their permission.

So these San Franciscans LURED innocent neighbors onto their porch by NEGLIGENTLY leaving out packages, ILLEGALLY videotaped them without their consent and then want the police to prosecute. The police should prosecute the doorbell camera people for, like violating the world’s constitutional rights or something.


I’d put my garbage in Amazon boxes and let them remove it.

When I travelled to visit family I used to ship my clothes ahead by UPS. They were stolen off my brother’s porch and I arrived to find I have nothing to wear. So my friend bought me a tag for my luggage on the return trip that said “you won’t look good in my clothes”. 😉

Where I live now mail theft is bad enough that we have closed our box and have our mail delivered to a UPS store. We have to drive a few miles to pick up our mail but it’s secure and we can leave town for a while knowing our mail won’t be stolen. We also don’t have to put up with our lazy and incompetent US mail lady any longer.

    ronk in reply to MrE. | November 5, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    I don’t ship USPS, because I don’t know where the package will end up, sent a package to Iowa ended up in Guam, other packages have taken the scenic tour.

committed by the poorest
Evil to use that as an excuse.
Exodus 23:3:
nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit

That goes alongside all the injunctions not to favor the rich in your “justice”. You’re not supposed to favor the poor, either.