Criminal Justice

Trapping the Entrappers

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So remember the story about New York City police leaving wallets and bags around, then arresting people who picked them up and walked by a cop without turning the found goods over?

I suggested someone do a "reverse sting," to see how much stuff turned over to authorities actually makes it back to its rightful owner. The point, here, is not necessarily that the police will steal the stuff, but that in most cases, you're going to have more luck contacting the owner yourself than turning over a found bag or wallet to a big city bureaucracy. This dumb entrapment operation basically makes criminals of people who make that decision.

Well, turns out the city's Metropolitan Transit conducted just such an experiment. They had subway riders turn 26 personal items to transit authorities, then tracked how many of the items made it back to the rightful owners. It didn't turn out so well. Only three of the 26 were properly returned. More:

The report said that the transit agency's lost property unit received more than 8,000 items each year and that only about 18 percent wound up back in the hands of their owners. Most unclaimed items were eventually auctioned off, the report said.

The audit also uncovered a chaotic system for handling property once it is turned in, with few safeguards. Often it can take weeks or months for lost items to make their way to the property unit's office where people can claim them.

Then there was the case of the lost earring. After it was found, a bus employee put the earring, which was set with what looked like a diamond, into an envelope for transfer to the lost property unit, the report said. But the envelope arrived empty.

Maybe NYC authorities should spend less time trying to bait city residents into committing crimes, and do a better job keeping their own employees in line.