Jaireme Barrow, who says he has caught 20 thieves in the act at his home, concedes that his not-quite-exploding box is an imperfect solution. But he says he has 477 preorders and is shipping them as fast as he can make them. Police say creating the device might be a crime.
The more time and money Jaireme Barrow spent to keep people from swiping packages off his front porch, the angrier he got.
He’d show police in Tacoma, Washington, crystal-clear surveillance video of porch pirates strolling onto his front yard and then making off with what he could only assume were the Jeep parts and electronics he’d paid for. But there were never any arrests.
As he grew more incensed, he realized he wanted more than identities or charges or even the stuff in the boxes.
Video: Watch it work
He wanted revenge.
Then, the 34-year-old had an explosive idea.
“I was thinking, how could I scare them and make them drop my package and then never come to my front porch again,” Barrow told The Washington Post. “And I thought, ‘Getting shot at is scary. That’ll make them think twice.’ “
With that, TheBlankBox was born.
Although Barrow has been tinkering with his device for nearly a year, interest has peaked this month, as Americans increasingly turn to the internet to buy presents for the people they love but face the added worry that their gifts somehow won’t make it.
Americans are shopping online as often as they take out the trash. According to the National Retail Federation, about 58 million Americans shopped only online from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, while 51 million shopped only in stores. An additional 64 million did both.
And more than 750 retailers participated in Free Shipping Day earlier this month, which one CBS affiliate said was meant to give consumers “peace of mind knowing their order is guaranteed to be delivered by Christmas Eve.”
Unless, of course, those dreaded “porch pirates” interfere.
Barrow’s concept for alleviating that anxiety is both simple and devious — if that word can be used to describe getting back at someone trying to rip you off.
The nondescript dummy box is placed in plain sight. When an unsuspecting thief lifts it, a 12-gauge shotgun blank goes off.
A video surveillance system like Barrow’s — installed to shame thieves and capture their startled reactions for YouTube — is not included.
Cue the schadenfreude!
It’s very loud but technically harmless, Barrow said.
But a police spokeswoman in Tacoma, where Barrow lives, said the device as described to her by a reporter appears to be illegal. There are, however, no open cases against Barrow.
The earliest version of TheBlankBox was a Wile E. Coyote-ish fever dream involving bricks, fishing line, a wooden box, an “aluminum carrying vessel” and a small plate.
It had to be attached to a doorknob and was impractical for anyone who wanted to make regular use of a door without setting off a minor explosion.
Still, it gave Barrow two things his home security system had never been able to provide: a chuckle and solid evidence about the identity of the person pilfering his package.
“The very first guy I did it to, he was so scared he dropped his cellphone in my front yard,” Barrow told The Post. “I gave it to the cops. Turns out, he lived, like, three blocks away from me.” The man wasn’t charged, Barrow said.
Since then, the design has evolved. Now it’s a self-contained device, involves no external strings, and Barrow can use his front door without worrying about explosions. He’s trying to patent TheBlankBox and has built a website, cashing in his savings and going “all in.”
The cheapest version costs $60. He has also designed some slightly naughty T-shirts.
He says he has sold about 50 dummy boxes and had 477 preorders as of Monday. Barrow says he’s shipping them as fast as he can make them, capitalizing on an untapped market as more and more people are becoming reliant on having boxes delivered to their door.
Droves of consumers are forgoing long lines, annoyingly cheery holiday music and the occasional Christmastime mall brawl in favor of online shopping.
But the changing consumer behavior has sparked a new anxiety, especially for people who optimistically choose to have packages left at their front door: Once there, the packages are vulnerable.
Thieves who roam neighborhoods looking for defenseless parcels have even earned a name and an Urban Dictionary entry: porch pirates.
According to USA Today, nearly half of Americans say they know someone who has had a package stolen; 30 percent say it has happened to them.
On the expensive end, smart-lock technology may allow people to grant delivery drivers access to their homes, although that opens up another can of anxieties. And people can always play delivery tag with drivers, but that can erode the convenience that led to the online purchase in the first place.
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Barrow acknowledges that potential buyers have brought up some practical considerations with the explosive device he makes in his garage.
Although gun blanks can hurt people, Barrow insists his contraption is “completely safe” — as long as the blanks are inside the box: They make a loud noise and nothing more.
And what of litigious would-be criminals tempted to sue after taking a stumble down porch stairs?
Barrow suggests tacking up a “no trespassing” sign and taping a note to the box that warns people to not move packages on the porch. That can inoculate a homeowner from lawsuits. Notifying delivery drivers doesn’t hurt, either.
Police in Tacoma say Washington state law forbids people from assembling or shipping explosive devices without a valid license.
“Even though it’s a blank, the way the device is made is actually illegal,” said Loretta Cool, a police spokeswoman. Barrow could also be held liable if someone gets hurt on his property during or after an explosion, she said.
“Even more than him crossing the line, I’m not sure if people realize that, even though this person is stealing something, he can’t intentionally set them up to be hurt,” Cool said.
She said police are not currently investigating Barrow because “nobody has reported this. We have to have a victim.”
Barrow, who says he has caught 20 would-be thieves in the act at his home, concedes that his not-quite-exploding box is an imperfect solution on a crowded porch of imperfect solutions.
But he says his device offers something others don’t: the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’ve made a terrified thief sprint off your lawn.
On those rare instances when Barrow is at home during the day, he will hear a muffled explosion from his front porch — and smile.
“One girl, she screamed so loud — it was instant karma,” he said. “Someone is trying to commit a crime, and you’re able to get back at them instantly. It’s a satisfaction I can’t describe.”