Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hard time for good intentions

Have you ever seen a purse or satchel left behind in a public place and picked the item up intending to return it to its rightful owner? Well, you might want to reconsider that good-neighbor policy -- at least, if you're a New Yorker. Such civic-mindedness could land you in jail in the Rotten Apple, where police police have been planting "lost" items in shops and public transportation, and then arresting people who pick them up without making a beeline to the nearest police officer.

Now, a new version of the operation has started to catch people in public places outside the subways, and at much higher stakes, Criminal Court records show.

Unlike the initial program, in which the props were worth at most a few hundred dollars, the bags are now salted with real American Express cards, issued under pseudonyms to the Police Department.

Because the theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a Class E felony, those convicted could face sentences of up to four years. The charges in the first round of Operation Lucky Bag were nearly all petty larceny, a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

Even prosecutors and judges have noted a few problems with this policing scheme.

In dismissing one case, a Brooklyn judge noted that the law gives people 10 days to turn in property they find, and suggested the city had enough real crime for the police to fight without any need to provide fresh temptations. The penal law also does not require that found items be turned over to a police officer. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office began to dismiss Lucky Bag charges.

Police are now looking for "sneaky" behavior that can be interpreted to mean the person picking up a bag doesn't intend to return it to its owner. Of course, interpretation is a subjective thing. For now, at least, the safest course of action appears to be to resist the temptation to be a good samaritan, and just walk on by any apparently lost items.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why aren't these so-called cops being charged with false arrest?

Oh, right, it's the NYPD. 'Nuff said.

November 28, 2007 2:09 PM  

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