ST. GEORGE -- The weeks leading up to Christmas are some of the busiest times for online shoppers - and in turn, porch pirates. Fortunately, one such thief was identified thanks to the use of doorbell cameras.

St. George resident Emili Whitney recently posted surveillance footage to Facebook of an unidentified woman taking packages off her doorstep. Whitney told St. George News each member of the family was home at the time of the incident and hadn't heard the person delivering the package knock on the door.

It wasn't until Whitney saw a comment on the Ring doorbell discussion boards about someone having a package stolen that she realized she had received a notification of the package's delivery but had never actually received the package.

Whitney combed through her doorbell footage and witnessed a woman picking up the package off the porch and walking away. However, in the video, the woman parked just out of sight of the camera and covered her face.

"There's a special place for people who steal Christmas presents," she said. "At the same time, it's replaceable. It's not like they broke into my house, but it was the feeling of somebody on your doorstep that would just walk up, take it and walk out. You hear about that other places but not here."

After filing a police report, Whitney posted the footage and screenshots of the same woman stealing packages from other homes on Facebook, asking for the public's help in identifying the porch pirate.

She originally posted the video to let others know to be on the lookout and that porch theft can happen even in St. George, she said. Fortunately, the woman did not attempt to conceal her identity or vehicle at other homes where she had previously stolen packages.

Whitney said she has since received a call from the St. George Police Department to let her know that the woman had been identified and was returning the packages she stole.

Although Whitney's packages had yet to be returned, she hopes they will be in the future. Despite the individual returning the packages, the woman will still be charged with theft and be required to replace items that Amazon and the United States Postal Office cannot.

Washington City Police Department Sgt. Kory Klotz told St. George News if someone steals something from a homeowner's property - even if it's returned - it is considered theft, and the homeowner is a victim of the crime. As a victim, the homeowners can decide whether they want to pursue charges, and law enforcement will continue the process based on the decision.

Whitney said she isn't sure whether she will be pressing charges, but having the woman's image shared all over Southern Utah might be justice enough for her.

"It's not about what she stole, it's about the principle and feeling like we're safe," she said. "That's just so wrong. She's obviously getting a repercussion that's bad by the fact that everybody is sharing her video. That would be my ultimate, worst horror."

Klotz said over the years he has seen an increase in the number of packages stolen off people's doorsteps during the holiday season.

"I would still say that it's not a constant problem, but it is something that is on the rise here, locally, within our city and other cities," he said.

Klotz said thieves are often deterred by security cameras that are placed in proximity to wherever the packages might be left, including Nest and Ring cameras. These measures, however, aren't always fool proof, as in the case of Whitney's home, where the woman was able to hide her identity.

Despite the cameras not being a deterrent for the woman who stole packages from Whitney and other homeowners, having the footage is still helpful.

"Sometimes the homeowner wants to pursue charges but there's lack of evidence, and there's not a lot we can do to solve it," Klotz said. "If it's cut and dry, with video footage, we can for sure take action on that."

Outside of having a camera, online shoppers can do a number of things to protect themselves from holiday thieves, he said. Scheduling deliveries for times you know someone will be home, having your neighbors watch for the delivery if you'll be out of town or even asking the delivery service to hold the package at their location are just some of the ways residents can ensure they don't become victims of porch pirates.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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