Palo Alto package thief nabbed in undercover sting

Man allegedly stole awning from porch of Webster Street home

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 or sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984.

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17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2015 at 11:55 am

Good Work! Thanks to the Palo Alto Police Department.

9 people like this
Posted by Be Aware
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

I don't know if it's possible to get USPS, UPS, or FedEx to agree to deliver a package at a specific date and time, but you can at least sign up to be notified when a package has been delivered to your door.

I highly recommend the "UPS My Choice" app that notifies you when something is coming, allows you to update delivery options, and notifies you within minutes after a package has been left at your door.

I'm not sure if FedEx or USPS have similar services, but most of our packages come via UPS.

8 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

I'm glad that they caught this thief. I hope that he is publicly shamed to the point that he will never engage in this type of activity again. Unfortunately, many people just aren't ashamed of illicit behavior anymore.

Posted by ultima
a resident of Green Acres

on Jun 8, 2015 at 1:38 pm

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3 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2015 at 1:49 pm

YES - thanks PAPD, another point for the good guys! Yea!

I agree with Nayeli, people are shameless these days.
They might feel bad for a little while, but they can quickly rationalize
and reconstruct whatever psychosis they might have that allows them
to ignore other people's feelings and rights, particularly in the
same environment.

Good work PAPD.

9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2015 at 1:59 pm

How safe is this Nextdoor social network that the police are recommending. I tried to sign up, but they ask for a huge amount of personal information (even more than Facebook). I'm not giving that kind of information to anyone voluntarily. Their privacy and security policies do not look especially robust, as far as I can tell.

Is there any way we can get these public safety messages without sacrificing our personal data?

5 people like this
Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

Nayeli & CrescentParkAnon... I'm sorry to say that that dude is not at all worried about shame. Ummm, He was caught with meth. I can basically guarantee he cares about one thing and one thing only...

2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2015 at 7:09 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

True, Terrace. Still, we don't know if he uses meth or sells that garbage. Even if he is a user, he is still in a shame-free stupor.

11 people like this
Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2015 at 7:46 pm

@Resident - Nextdoor requires you to verify your physical address to ensure that neighborhood content is private. IE, you can only join a neighborhood in which you live. Verification makes it possible for people to share potentially sensitive information like a package theft or to let their neighbors know that they'll be away on vacation. You can read more about verification here: Web Link

Once you verify your address, you can choose not to share that location with your neighbors. And if you have any trouble signing up, just write their help team (

4 people like this
Posted by nevermind
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm

It seems the victim solved the crime with no help from Why bother joining?

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2015 at 8:17 pm

@Adrian - yes, that is what Nextdoor's advertising says about privacy and maybe that is good enough for some people, but how do I really know I can really trust them? If some advertiser offers them big bucks for user information (like social security numbers, phone numbers, and addresses), are they legally bound to refuse and keep it private forever? What if the company gets bought out or sued or hacked? If the company changes their privacy policy for any reason, how easily can I delete my account and all my personal information? I scanned through their web site and could not find any information about who is really managing and auditing their security and user privacy. The company seems to be owned by venture capitalists, which implies that everything they own is for sale, which is really not a good omen for security.

6 people like this
Posted by Adrian
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2015 at 8:42 pm

@Resident - It's your call whether you trust Nextdoor or not. Any online service you use can be hacked.

The privacy policy (Web Link) clearly indicates that your information will not be shared without your express consent. I'm a member and I'm happy with the value Nextdoor provides. If things change, they're required to notify me, and I could reconsider. You can de-activate your account easily.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2015 at 8:44 pm

I can tell you my personal experience with NextDoor's verification process. I wanted to see how solid their privacy protections were and signed up under a different street address from my own. They emailed me various options for verifying that I lived at the address, all of which I ignored. About three months later I received an email congratulating me for joining and stating that a neighbor had verified by address. Obviously, they so badly want to build their numbers that the so-called verification is more show than real protection. If I had been a burglar trying to penetrate a neighborhood, this would have been quite easy.

5 people like this
Posted by No Nextdoor
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm

Why should we be directed to sign up for Nextdoor?
The police should do the policing and refrain from recommending certain websites to the public.
I agree with the privacy concerns that have been raised. Terms of Service could certainly change.

4 people like this
Posted by Nextdoor is Questionable
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2015 at 11:36 pm

I had the same experience as Resident of Old Palo Alto. I was curious about their verification process so I made up a name and address in another neighborhood. When I got to the tough questions I ignored them and did not pursue it further. Out of the blue, a few months later I got a "Congratulations" email saying the neighborhood moderator had approved me and I was all set. I was mortified and quickly deleted that bogus account.

I've also seen Nextdoor's neighborhood boundaries be inexplicably changed to include addresses that were previously not included in a neighborhood, and are not included in the City's boundary description.

Ultimately, Nextdoor is administered by some random neighbors (no idea how they are chosen) and your security and experience will vary with those individuals. And sadly, politics play a huge factor whenever random people are in charge of something. This might well end up being Nextdoor's undoing.

7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2015 at 11:49 pm

Reviews of Nextdoor can be found by googling nextdoor reviews. It's not pretty.

Even the Wikipedia article is less than glowing.

5 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2015 at 12:22 am

Rather than worrying about Nextdoor, a better solution would be for Palo Altans to stop doing dumb things. Leaving delivered packages sitting outside, leaving laptop computers or other valuables in plain sight in an unlocked car and leaving bicycles unlocked in the carport is just asking for trouble. I have seen all these in Palo Alto, and it only serves to attract criminals. A brightly colored mailer from the city government warning about such things would be quite helpful.

5 people like this
Posted by Another Nextdoor Skeptic
a resident of another community
on Jun 10, 2015 at 8:54 am

Like Resident and Nextdoor Is Questionable above, I was curious about their verification process and used the address of a nearby business as my home address as well as providing a name that had my real first name (common enough) and a nearby street name as the family name.

I also ignored the nosier questions and promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later when I got an e-mail saying that the verification was complete and my account was approved for use.

I only logged in a couple of times and the activity wasn't about public safety issues like this package thief, but essentially like a classifieds section of the paper: "I have an old coffee table up for grabs" or "can anyone recommend a good dentist" and other similar posts.

As mentioned above, the Nextdoor moderation/administration is handed over to someone local. Human moderators typically have their own agendas and moderation is usually unevenly applied. You only need to read the Embarcadero Media sites to witness unevenly applied comment moderation. In some cases (certain blogs), this approaches borderline fascist-level censorship.

About ten percent of Americans move every year, even if the move is fairly local, so the accuracy of Nextdoor's community rosters will never improve over time.

Worse, online communities scale extremely poorly, so the usefulness of a site like Nextdoor will decline rapidly as the signal-to-noise ratio starts to decline.

If you seek timely public safety announcements, you are better off using Nixle. Only real public safety agencies (police, sheriff, fire) are allowed to post using Nixle. I'm also following the Twitter accounts of nearby law enforcement agencies. This has worked out fairly well.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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