SEATAC, Wash. -- U.S. Postal Inspectors are using bait packages to lure in and arrest porch pirates.
In just over a week, postal inspectors working with police in SeaTac, Burien, Shoreline and Olympia have arrested four suspects accused of stealing bait packages, and a fifth was caught in Portland.
"It looks just like any other package out on somebody's porch, so you never know if you're out stealing something, if you're gonna end up getting arrested by one of us within five minutes of you taking it," said Postal Inspector John Wiegand.
The boxes containing VIVE virtual reality glasses and Apple iPads were placed at homes, neighborhoods and businesses where thefts had previously been reported.
"We have some advanced investigative techniques that we'll use in this scenario with the packages that are out on people's porches, so if somebody steals it, we know that they took it and we will be finding them pretty darn quickly," said Wiegand.
That's exactly what happened to Derek Allen Webb. SeaTac PD officers and postal inspectors caught him carrying the bait box on December 4 within five minutes of it being stolen.
"He was on foot, so he tried a little bit to get away from us, but units were able to get in on him pretty precisely and pretty quickly and we were able to grab him into custody without incident in the end," said Wiegand.
Prosecutors charged him with Theft 3rd Degree and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
He spent more than a week in the SCORE jail in Des Moines before being released on bond on December 12.
"Our ultimate goal is to remove package thieves from the street, get those guys arrested, but also to really put an emphasis out to them that, 'Hey! We're out here. We're out here patrolling the streets. Local agencies are out here patrolling the streets and knock it off. Stop stealing people's stuff,'" said Wiegand.
There is no way to tell by looking at the packages whether they are real or bait boxes. Postal inspectors ask former theft victims for permission to place the packages outside their homes or businesses.
"I think it's good for the community. It allows the cops to actually have a chance to catch people wandering the streets and stealing stuff at night where it's hard to patrol that stuff," said Seattle Ski and Snowboard co-owner Kyle McQueen.
Their store in Shoreline has had numerous thefts, including a Christmas tree that was recently stolen.
Within hours of placing the bait package outside his ski shop on December 11, Shoreline Police and Postal inspectors were alerted to a theft.
Officers say they quickly located Ashley Pocock sitting in a nearby restaurant with the stolen iPAD that had been in the bait package.
Pocock already had a $100,000 warrant for her arrest in Snohomish County for Possession of Stolen Mail and Identity Theft 2nd Degree. She was booked into the King County Jail for failure to appear in court on those charges and she is facing an additional Theft 2nd degree.
"If you want to steal packages at this time of year or anytime of the year, we'll be on you as fast as we can be and you'll be in custody. This may be something small you may be stealing, but it's still somebody else's property and it's not yours, so we're coming for you," warned Wiegand.
While the opioid epidemic is fueling most of thefts, many are crimes of opportunity.
"That's why we always push people, 'Hey, grab that stuff off your porch as soon as you can.' Whether it's midnight, whether it's 5 a.m., noon, whatever time that thing arrives, try and get somebody to get it off your porch as soon as you can," said Wiegand.
If you witness a package theft or see suspicious people following a delivery truck or prowling in your neighborhood, call 911 immediately.