Proportionality and pranking thieves

I read an article yesterday about NASA scientist Mark Rober creating a glitter bombing aimed at thieves who would steal parcels from his front porch. The bait consists of a white box shrink-wrapped, suggesting some expensive consumer electronics item.

The package glitter bombed thieves and recorded the encounter, uploading to the cloud in case Mark never retrieves the package. Oh, man. It was hilarious. This led me to search YouTube for “pranking thieves.”

In the video, Mark shares a story in which six months prior, someone stole a package off his front porch. He even caught the thief on camera. He approached police with the video, but the police said that it wasn’t their thing. Mark said that not only did he feel violated by the incident, but now helpless that law enforcement didn’t care.


In April 2005, I took leave, traveling from Hawaii all the way to Pennsylvania and finishing my first enlistment in the Marine Corps. I took AirTran Airways to get home. One checked baggages was a backpack, which contained a Garmin GPS device.

When I got to Pennsylvania, I found the GPS box still in the backpack but the device had been removed. I no longer possessed. I tried reaching AirTran Airways. Fuck AirTran Airways.

I wrote it off as a $200 loss and begin wondering how we could stop this crime from happening. A bait box! I didn’t know where to begin. So, I moved on. If only I had been a NASA scientist…

These thieves are lucky that their victim was a NASA scientist asking about glitter and not an IED maker asking about scoring body parts as trophies. A bit much? Yes, I understand, but sometimes anger trumps reason; not that it should, but that it does. Especially when you’re the one getting screwed!


In answering that, a soldier reasons through his perspective as the subject employing violence, whereas police reason through the perspective of the object – more so, at least. We all have to think about ourselves relative to the other, to succeed.

Soldiers are warriors. Police are peacekeepers. A soldier on deployment finds himself in a situation that presumes violence as inevitable, because that’s what war is. Police don’t presume violence as inevitable; although, given the adversarial nature of their job, they weigh on the side of caution and prepare for the worst anyway.

On the reasonability of violence, from his point of view, a soldier asks about necessity, proportionality, humanity, and distinctness:

(1) Is violence necessary?

(2) Would the violence be in proportion to the threat?

(3) Would the type of violence be humane?

(4) Is the target distinct?

Of the object, the police officer asks instead about ability, opportunity, and jeopardy:

(1) Does the suspect (not target) have the ability to harm?

(2) Does he have the opportunity to do so?

(3) Does he present immediate and otherwise unavoidable jeopardy?

The armed citizen should ask the same questions as law enforcement, replacing the word subject with potential violent criminal aggressor, or something like that.

Each of the above questions makes for a great discussion, and a great blog post – for another day.


I was watching these YouTube videos on pranking thieves last night with my youngest daughter. We had a blast. Too funny. One of the pranks consisted of a box truck with the back left open as bait.

After luring in the thief, someone quickly shuts the door, locking the thief in. A camera inside the box truck captures the comedy. The driver then speeds off maniacally, sending the thief and the packages flailing around.

My daughter began to express sympathy for the thief, saying, “Dad, why are you laughing! Look… He’s scared and he’s crying…” I said, “‘Cause it’s funny. And fuck him. He should’ve thought of that before.” If these pranksters had baited a child molester like how does, how much would we really give a shit?

I understand what my daughter means, and I do empathize… I empathize with her, not with any of these thieves. She means that we all make mistakes. In her eyes, the punishment went too far. It was disproportionate to the offense.

I contend that it didn’t go far enough. Rather than pranks, how about sting operations with bait cars, bait bikes, bait virtual children to catch pedophiles or bait buyers to catch child traffickers?

If we think about it long enough, we can probably create apps for that. Apps to prevent abuse. Apps to stop current abuse. Apps to reduce the number of abusers… I’m going to add this to my list of app projects to think about.