New York City isn't necessarily known to be home to the country's friendliest police force, but the NYPD's latest tactics for cutting down on petty theft sound downright mean. The method involves leaving valuable items — a purse full of cash, an iPad, a wallet, a pack of cigarettes — unattended and waiting to see if people decide to rip it off. The NYPD says the technique "has been a valuable tool for catching career criminals and deterring thefts in public places," according to the Associated Press. Critics, however, maintain that these sting operations border on entrapment.
Although the NYPD's been doing this for years, objections to the method are just now bubbling up in the courts. It would be hard to think of a more telling example of an innocent person being tricked into quasi-criminal behavior than the case of Deirdre Myers, a 40-year-old single mother who was arrested in the Bronx in 2010 for basically looking inside of a car. The incident almost sounds like a prank. Myers was stoop-sitting in front of her building when a car being followed by police squealed to a stop in the street. The driver jumped out and ran; the police chased after him. Confused by the whole scene Myers went to have a look inside of the would-be perpetrator's abandoned car, where she saw what appeared to be a roll of cash sitting inside. But without having reached for the bait at all, Myers found herself on the ground in handcuffs. She was confused when the cops that arrested her pulled up to the station and she saw the driver of the abandoned car smoking a cigarette out front. He was an undercover officer.
The NYPD seems to these entrapment-like strategies. It helps get the arrest count up and every now and again they probably do catch a career criminal or real bad guy. They've discussed using the technique to identify individuals who might commit a mass shooting and have drawn criticism for using it as an anti-terrorism technique. The NYPD's been criticized for this practiced, nicknamed Operation Lucky Bag, in recent years as well, after some said it was "ill advised and… a clear violation of civil rights." However, arresting single mothers for looking inside of abandoned cars is just crazy. "It's such a bizarre and extreme attempt to set somebody up," executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Donna Lieberman told the AP. "It's like lucky bag on steroids."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.