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Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
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Residents use technological solution to combat tech-created problem: theft by porch pirates

TAMPA — Four packages landed on the porch of a Palma Ceia home one day last month. Inside were shoes and supplies for a children’s birthday party. At 4:52 p.m. on a Friday, a man in a white hat calmly gathered up the brown boxes.

Then he drove away from the home that was not his own.

But it was all caught on a Ring Video Doorbell, and a suspect was charged with grand theft.

As porch pirates brazenly take advantage of the boom in online shopping — cashing in on events such as this week’s Amazon Prime Day — residents are finding technological solutions to a technology-created problem.

And so is law enforcement.

Tampa police said Tuesday that they are teaming up with an app called Neighbors, which bills itself as the "new neighborhood watch," to make use of videos recorded on home security devices.

The Neighbors app is sponsored by Ring, which is owned by Amazon, and it’s one of many ways people are banding together digitally to deter crime. Home surveillance images captured from an array of cameras circulate on other apps and social media platforms such as Nextdoor and Facebook, where neighbors alert each other to suspicious activity.

The Neighbors app lets users share video of incidents with each other, and with law enforcement if they choose.

Tampa police say they used video shared through the app to solve the June 22 package poaching in Palma Ceia, which happened on San Luis Street. They charged Santiago Rodriguez, 32, with the theft of merchandise worth $309.

The video was shared among neighbors on the app, and then detectives sought permission to view and use it.

"The Neighbors app makes it easier for residents to look out for one another in their own communities and makes it easier for law enforcement to quickly identify and apprehend criminals," Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan said Tuesday in a news release.

Other local law enforcement agencies are taking steps to digitize their community engagement. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office use the NextDoor app to connect with residents.

The Pinellas and Hillsborough sheriff’s offices are making plans to create a digital neighborhood watch program through the Ring Neighborhoods Program.

The recent porch theft in Tampa gives a case study of the neighborhood-driven digital security network.

A search of the suspect’s Nissan Murano produced items like the ones stolen in the porch theft. There was also a white Polo ball cap like one worn by the man in the video. Rodriguez also faces charges related to a June 23 package theft, said police spokesman Steve Hegarty.

Thousands of local residents use the Neighbors app, police say.

Hegarty said footage shared with law enforcement through the app can be useful for more than just stolen packages. It can help solve other crimes, such as hit-and-run crashes.

The advantage of video, he said, is that it allows authorities to confirm a suspect’s identities instead of relying on verbal descriptions.

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Bre Bradham can be reached at [email protected] and (803) 460-9001.

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