Would-Be Package Thieves Make Wheeling P.D.’s Naughty List

Photo Provided Undercover Wheeling Police Department officers left this message for would-be thieves inside boxes placed on the front porches of homes as part of “Operation Porch Pirates.”

The Wheeling Police Department has made two arrests after conducting an undercover operation to catch people targeting packages on porches for theft.

According to Wheeling Police Department spokesman Philip Stahl, multiple reports of package thefts during the holidays over the course of several years prompted the undertaking, dubbed “Operation Porch Pirates.” The operation began a week and a half before Christmas and ended on Christmas Eve.

Scott Ruttencutter, 37, and Casey Higgs, 29, both of Wheeling, allegedly were caught stealing a package left on a porch in Center Wheeling with two undercover officers in the area. Ruttencutter and Higgs now face theft charges.

Stahl said as officer staffing levels improve, more proactive operations similar to this will be conducted in effort to deter crime.

According to Stahl, this is the first year for “Operation Porch Pirates” and there were several incidents of such thefts this holiday season.

“I want to say at least five or six (thefts) this year in the last several weeks, of packages missing,” he said. “We utilized 40-plus hours. … We caught them — that’s for sure.”

Although some thieves managed to get away with the packages, the Wheeling Police Department made sure the culprits knew they may not be as lucky next time around.

“If they were to get away with the box, we actually have a message inside that says, ‘Merry Christmas, Wheeling Police.’ Some packages had an umbrella or some magazines in them to give it some weight.”

Stahl said the department doesn’t announce these types of operations in advance due to their sensitive nature. He hopes once all new hires are fully trained, the department will be able to conduct more such operations in the future.

“We still have four vacancies, but when you add in people that are at the West Virginia State Police Academy, we still have seven people who are not trained. We hire them and then you go to the academy, then field training and learn the streets of Wheeling and where the problem areas are. It takes a good nine months,” Stahl said. “In 2017 we hired nine people with another coming on Jan. 2.”