St. Paul police are using decoys to catch package thieves. Has it worked?

St. Paul police hope some package thief is in for an unpleasant surprise.

St. Paul police hope some package thief is in for an unpleasant surprise. Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the day fast approaching, St. Paul police are trying desperately to figure out how to stop people from stealing Christmas.

This is the time of year, St. Paul Police spokesperson Mike Ernster says, when the getting is good for a front-stoop package thief. Those aren’t boxes of diapers or dish racks in those Amazon boxes. They’re expensive toys and fine goods for loved ones -- gadgets and gizmos aplenty.

There have been 200 stolen packages this year, and half of the thefts have happened since October. So, this year, police are trying to get smart.

Behold: the decoy package. Last week, officers dropped a box on a willing resident’s stoop in west St. Paul. But instead of the new Super Smash Brothers game or some leather boots, it had a broken laptop and a very functional GPS tracker inside. The idea is that as soon as someone nabs it, the police can make a beeline their way and catch them in the act.

Last week was the first time the St. Paul Police Department has tried this clever plan, and after setting their trap and lying in wait, they can officially report that they have successfully caught…

...No one.

“There was no luck that day,” Ernster explained. In other words, nobody took the bait. But other departments have been deploying the same tactic this year, from Fort Worth to Jersey City, and they’ve had some success.

In fact, Jersey City police captain James Crecco told Quartz last week that it only took three minutes for their bait package to be stolen after it was planted, and they managed to catch the culprit. It happened so quickly that they “thought it was a mistake,” he said.

St. Paul police will continue to use their decoy package in hopes it will one day snag a thief -- or perhaps simply deter potential thieves. Ernster’s happy to have the plan out in the open if it means would-be criminals will think twice.

That said, a little catharsis is what we crave in a story about what is, essentially, a booby trap. So, until the St. Paul decoy package does what it was designed to do, enjoy this theft victim/engineer’s solution to the missing package problem: a self-activating glitter bomb. Maybe St. Paul police can consider it an idea for next year.