After the fourth time it happened in recent months, Jaireme Barrow was tired of people stealing the packages off his South Tacoma front porch.
So he devised a device to deter them, and set up an alluring bait box containing the contraption Dec. 11.
It started off with a bang Tuesday as Barrow sat on the couch in his living room.
“I didn’t know what was going on for a minute,” he said. “I thought it was somebody being shot because I heard her scream, so I grabbed my Mace and went outside.”
Just in time to watch the would-be thief scurry away to a waiting car — shotgun blasts do have a tendency to scare people, after all.
Barrow’s box is pretty simple — it contains a plate holding back a firing pin, connected to a string he’s tied off to his interior doorknob. When the box is pulled on hard enough, it moves the plate, allowing the firing pin to set off a 12-gauge shotgun blank.
Cue fleeing thief.
“I know it’s crude, but there’s nothing scarier than a 12 gauge,” Barrow said.
Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said Monday she doesn’t think Barrow’s box serves as a deterrent or is a good idea.
“If the would-be package thief is hurt in any way, the homeowner would be responsible,” Cool said.
She also said she thinks what Barrow’s doing might be a crime, but it would be up to prosecutors to make a final call.
“I believe there are criminal charges, but it would be up to them if they charged or not,” Cool said.
Barrow’s contraption has attracted more than one would-be thief.
Another would-be “porch pirate” came to his front doorstep a couple days after the first woman ran off.
(A well-placed doorbell camera lets Barrow — and then the world — see the package trap in action, even if he’s not home.)
The man approached the front door tepidly, getting spooked by a motion-sensor light. But his companion in the getaway car seemed to egg him on, so he went back toward the house to grab the package.
Another fleeing thief.
The man left in such a hurry that Barrow ended up with his cellphone.
“Poetic justice,” he said.
But because the potential thieves didn’t take anything, they can only be charged with trespassing, he said.
Despite being scary, Barrow says, the device is safe.
Barrow said he’s tested the box himself “dozens of times,” even putting a tomato inside the box at one point to simulate flesh.
“It never hurt me once,” he said. “It didn’t hurt the tomato in there either.”
Among the things thieves have walked off with in the past: sway bar disconnects and lights for his Jeep, some tools, even a case of Red Bull he’d bought online.
“I can’t wake up in the morning without it,” Barrow said. “I was pretty cranky there for a few days.”
The cardboard box he uses originally carried a shipment of toilet paper.
He says neighbors haven’t complained about the device. Instead, “They think anything that deters people from stealing things from my porch and theirs is a good thing.”
Police spokeswoman Cool said that while the department is not thrilled with Barrow’s booming box, video from his doorbell camera did help officers track down and arrest an alleged thief recently.
“So, I would tell people to continue to call in and report when they see or have evidence of these crimes,” she said.
Barrow says his neighborhood is a little rough, but he has no plans to leave the home he grew up in and renovated himself.
Barrow said there’s been some interest in marketing the device, which he has redesigned.
“We’ll see what the future may hold,” he said. “Who knows? In a few months, I may have one on every doorstep in Washington.”
That would certainly mean booming business.
Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.