On Wednesday, a bill that would increase penalties for those who steal delivered packages, commonly known as “porch pirates”, was introduced in the Senate.
Senate Bill 358, authored by Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee), would drastically increase both jail time and crime severity for package theft, especially repeat offenders. Currently under California law, package theft is only a misdemeanor, no matter how many priors the criminal had before. Under SB 358, porch piracy would become a possible felony action if the criminal had two or more prior convictions in a 36-month period. Jail time would also be increased with a third conviction. Should the 3rd conviction be tried as a misdemeanor, the criminal could get up to one year in jail. Should it be tried as a felony, the prison sentence can be as much as three years.
Senator Jones authored the bill to combat the rise in porch piracy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been primarily fueled by more people ordering goods online due to many stores having reduced hours or remaining closed. Jones specifically noted the porch piracy has especially hurt elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable Californians during the pandemic, with many ordering in essential supplies like PPE, food, and medicine.
“Because current law treats package theft outside the home differently than burglaries inside the home, many of these porch pirates are habitual offenders who keep dodging real punishment for their crimes,” explained Senator Jones on Wednesday. “In addition to driving up the price for all consumers, porch piracy leaves the most vulnerable in our community without essential items that many need to survive.
“Because of the COVID-19 crisis, home delivery of goods has increased all across the nation. In particular, seniors and disabled Californians rely on package delivery for fundamental items such as medication and food. Unfortunately, package theft continues to run rampant with the rise of home delivery services. This `porch piracy’ epidemic is serious and must be addressed by our criminal justice system. While current law is weak, this bill will ensure the punishment fits the crime.
“The prosecution and law enforcement, their hands are tied in that it doesn’t matter how many times somebody steals a package, it’s still only a misdemeanor. And in California right now, a misdemeanor is usually a citation. People aren’t showing up for their court dates or not paying the misdemeanors, and they just keep on stealing from people’s porches.
“So we’re hoping to provide a solution for Californians to protect their homes and the packages that they’re ordering online.”
This is Senator Jones’ second attempt at a porch package theft bill since last year, with the almost identical SB 979 failing last year due to many Senator’s reluctance in giving out harsher penalties at a time when prisons became COVID-19 hotspots. Senator Jones remarked that the odds of passage were much better this year due to new Senate committee makeups.
“But this year, it’s a new committee chairman, new makeup, new members on the committee of public safety, which we are pretty sure is the committee it’ll get referred to,” added Jones.
Support in favor of, opposition against SB 358
Supporters of SB 358 noted that increased punishments are needed due to the well documented rise of package thefts since March of 2020.
“You would not believe the number of new videos we have gotten from residents around here,” noted Edgar Chavez, a Los Angeles neighborhood watch block captain who informs local law enforcement on neighborhood crimes. “In 2019, I got maybe a dozen emails from people saying packages have been stolen. Last year, just by going through my emails, most with video links, there were nearly 100. And already this year I have at least a dozen.”
“I know a lot of people writing in to support that bill this time. Right now they’re just stealing things like laptops and iPhones, but there have been some cases of pills being stolen too. In November, someone’s ventilator supplies were actually stolen from a package on their porch. What kind of animal does that?”
“They need to be caught and sent to jail for this to truly curb this in. They are literally hurting citizens, and way more than financially.”
Some opposition has come out against the bill as well. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been the most prominent group against SB 358, explaining that the bill discriminates and can be used to arrest people of whom package owners are biased against.
“We fear that the bill could be used as a pretext for arresting people against whom law enforcement or property owners are explicitly or implicitly biased,” explained the ACLU in a letter written Thursday.
SB 358 is expected to be brought to a Senate committee sometime after March 12th.