A man suspected of stealing a package from the porch of a Webster Street home and then trying to pawn off its contents on Craigslist was arrested when his buyer turned out to be an undercover Palo Alto officer.
Police said the man, Eric Trinidad Espinoza, was nabbed after the evening theft was captured on a home-surveillance video, which was widely shared on the social-network website Nextdoor. After seeing the video and finding a Craigslist listing for the item in the package, officers nabbed the 39-year-old Mountain View resident in an undercover sting on May 30.
Police said Espinoza allegedly took the package at about 10:25 p.m. on May 18, though the theft wasn't reported to the police until 10 days later. Espinoza is believed to have taken the package, which contained an awning with an estimated value of $250, after a delivery company left it on the porch.
The victim of the theft learned about the incident from a surveillance video, which he subsequently posted on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social network. The video shows a man wearing a long-sleeved button-up shirt and shorts quickly walking up to the porch and covering his face with one arm. He takes the long, flat package and scampers away.
After posting the video, the victim began to diligently track Craigslist for descriptions of the stolen awning. Once he saw a suspicious listing, he reported the theft to the police. An officer, posing as an interested buyer, then called Espinoza and arranged to meet him in a parking lot on El Camino Real. At about 11:25 a.m. on May 30, Espinoza arrived at the lot on the 3100 block of El Camino and met two undercover officers. After they confirmed that the item being sold was the stolen awning, they arrested Espinoza without incident. Police said that in addition to the stolen property, Espinoza had in his possession methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
Espinoza was booked in the Santa Clara County Main Jail on charges of possession of stolen property, possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia and driving with a suspended license.
Palo Alto police said the case highlights the fact that unattended packages make easy targets for criminals. The department has released a list of recommendations for residents to prevent porch thefts. These include having packages delivered to a workplace or to a neighbor; requesting that the shipper hold the package at a pick-up facility or a branch store; requiring a signature confirmation upon delivery; and requesting a specific delivery date and time for packages. Police also recommend that residents sign up for Nextdoor, which now includes about 10,000 local residents.
Anyone with information about this incident or the suspect is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.