If you see a stray wallet orphaned on the ground and pick it up, aiming to call the Department of Public Safety or simply to drop the wallet, intact, off at the local sheriff’s office, would you think twice for fear of being arrested for theft?
In New York City, you should think twice. For years, the NYPD has staged lost-wallet or dropped-credit-card scenarios in a bid to haul away the intrepid soul who’d dare nibble at the bait.
Thankfully, one Bronx judge has recognized the practice for what it is: entrapment. In January, Judge Linda Poust Lopez threw out a larceny case against a local woman whom cops arrested, at gunpoint — after they first planted a phone, money and cigarettes in a car, staged an incident that made the car appear to have been abandoned, and then lay in wait.
The woman, Deirdre Myers, and her teenage daughter, Kenya, lived in a building near the setup and happened to be outside on their stoop. They saw a guy pull up in the car get out, and start running from police in close pursuit. As he was “caught,” the fake suspect yelled out that he had left his items in the car; but, of course, he was just an undercover officer, his role in the charade fulfilled.
Kenya approached the car and saw the alleged belongings through the still-open door, and her mother approached the car with the intent of grabbing them.
“We live within walking distance of the 44th precinct. We thought we could just take it there. We wanted to turn it in to the police,” Deirdre Myers told the New York Daily News.
Even after the cops drew down on the mother and daughter and placed them in handcuffs, Myers thought a quick conversation with the officers would straighten things out. She spent the night in jail instead. That all happened in 2010, and the case has taken two years to resolve. The cops never backed down on Myers, with prosecutors continually urging her to plea to the charge.
That’s the NYPD’s “Operation Lucky Bag,” a baiting tactic the department has justified since 2006 for being effective in isolating would-be mass murderers or terrorists. Of course, what it really does is create a lazy crutch for beat officers to meet arrest quotas while expanding state power by qualifying the entrapment setup as simply an innocuous form of undercover sting.
But a sting involves probable cause, often is preceded by the issue of at least a search warrant, and manifests because investigators have demonstrated to a magistrate that one or more perpetrators are likely to be charged with specific crimes. Stings aren’t predicated on police hunches about how human nature will inform a random person’s response to seeing some lost property.
Although Lopez tossed the case and scolded the police in the process, the court action doesn’t invalidate the NYPD’s use of the entrapment tactic. Myers, however, is suing.