Let’s help catch criminals together! A study from the National Institute of Justice suggests that deterrence works by increasing the likelihood of a criminal getting caught (rather than increasing the severity of the punishment). This means that cameras and the gadgets that we set up work only if reports are made to the appropriate authorities.
Unfortunately, that’s not happening. According to this report from the Tulsa World, people have been taking to posting evidence of package theft to social media, but not reporting it to the police. This is a problem for a handful of reasons. The first problem is that posting evidence on package theft on social media doesn’t actually get that evidence into the hands of the police, who might actually be able to do something. Police with their tight budgets don’t have time to monitor all of our social media streams. Sure, NSA probably does, but they’re not going to contact the local authorities over something like package theft. When you post your security footage it might hinder a potential future investigation, and posting footage of people without their permission, while not illegal, does raise some privacy issues (even if they’ve committed a crime). Point being, posting security footage to social media at very least doesn’t help the police very much at all. In fact, it could actually contribute to the package theft epidemic.
To explain this we need to understand copycat crime. This crime occurs when people witness a particularly sensational action being committed and desiring to have that attention. More importantly, the actions we could think to do are those that we know or are familiar with. It’s very uncommon that someone invents a new action. Rather, we imitate familiar patterns of actions that are already in circulation. In other words, when potential criminals see videos online of porch pirates, package theft becomes a viable action and probably one they’d never thought of. The more these videos circulate, the more package theft becomes a thing. As a thing, it becomes something that people can do.
Finally, I suspect that posting on social media satisfies our need to report without accomplishing anything. Let me explain what I suspect. Imagine you have a package stolen from your porch (or a bike, or anything really). Not only are you upset that your package is gone, but you feel like someone stole from you. There’s a unique feeling of violation associated with theft that does not exist if the package was simply lost or destroyed in transit. One way we deal with that feeling is to share it. If we share it with the police, we get the relief of sharing, plus they might be able to catch the person. However, I suspect that sharing it on social media provides the same relief but without the potential that the person will be caught. In other words, we can get the relief of sharing without accomplishing anything. Sharing on social media is a whole lot easier than filing a police report, so the barriers to doing so are much lower.
In the end, while there may be limits to what the police can do when a package theft is reported, they can do absolutely nothing if they don’t get that report. Insurance companies often require a police report for you to file a claim, and finally, by not reporting, police won’t be able to track trends of crime and so they won’t direct any extra resources your way in the future. On the flip side, posting to social media might give us the feeling of relief that comes with sharing, but it at best does nothing and at worst actually contributes to the package theft epidemic. So, if deterrence didn’t work, and you’ve found yourself missing a package, do take the time to file a report. It can’t hurt and could even help the situation.