Loose Milk Crates: The Latest Enemy Standing Between Us and a Safe, Orderly Society

Florida Man arrested, sent to jail over a container attached to his bicycle.


beggar on crate
kennethkonica via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The dairy industry loses and must replace about 20 million milk crates per year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, which has a whole website set up to warn against the theft and misuse of the plastic containers.

They have an obvious and legitimate interest in trying to stop criminal enterprises that snatch these containers by the truckload and take them to recycling centers for the cash. Police in southern Florida broke up a ring in April that had stolen more than $1.5 million worth of crates. Crates are all stamped with the name of the dairy that owns them and it's illegal under various state laws for individuals to keep them in their possession, laws of which few Americans are likely aware.

Though these laws are ostensibly for the purpose of fighting theft rings, they're also handy tools for police to harass poor undesirables and anybody who has to scrounge whatever they find to get by. So Timothy Troller of Auburndale, Florida, ended up in a jail cell entirely because he had a milk crate attached to his bicycle.

Did he steal the crate? Probably not. Troller said he found it on the side of the road. The Polk County Sheriff's Department doesn't care. From WFLA:

"You're possessing something that is stolen from a business, whether it's as small as a milk crate, or a shopping cart," Polk County Sheriff's Office Spokesperson, Carrie Horstman said. "He was charged with possessing stolen property. He may pay a fine or spend a few days in jail."

"Deputies are actually out there proactively looking for things that don't look right; looking for suspicious things. If they see somebody riding a bicycle at 10 o'clock at night they may have a conversation with them. They are looking for people who are doing even the smallest crime, because, what we've learned is, those who will go out an steal a milk crate, for example, are the same people who are probably breaking into cars, breaking into your house," Horstman said.

Troller's family does note that he has a criminal record, which is supposed to justify such terrible treatment, the way Horstman talks about it. Horstman represents the kind of police attitude that makes it harder and harder for those who have criminal pasts to ever recover. Stealing a milk crate is the gateway drug to breaking into somebody's house.

If it makes Troller feel any better, he's not the only poor schmo who has had this law used against him for being in the possession of a single milk crate, not for being part of some organized criminal recycling enterprise. Last year, also in Florida, a 30-year-old homeless man was arrested after being found sitting outside a grocery store on a milk crate begging for money. Police said at the time the charge of possessing a milk crate was used "whenever appropriate." A news story noted he was held without bail.

And the harassment of those who sit on milk crates was also part of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to clean up the city. Back in 2003, as part of the city's Operation Impact, a young man in the Bronx was handed a summons when police found him sitting on a milk crate in public. An administrative judge told the New York Daily News at the time that she had never heard of such a law against "unauthorized use" of a milk crate herself. Even the police union back at the time complained that they were being pushed to write these citations as a way of bringing in money for the city.

Read more about Troller's predicament and watch the news segment here.

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  1. Is there a specific dairy that was the victim and wanted to press charges?

    No? Then fuck off.

    1. The State. I don’t need to tell you who they milk.

      1. Probably the bull with their competence level.

  2. Troller’s family does note that he has a criminal record

    Well then shooting him would be justified in retrospect.

  3. When, oh when, will Homo Floridicus finally evolve?

    1. HF lacks the same AVOID AUTHORITY genes that most of us have. They are caught an inordinate amount of time. I am not sure evolutionary pressure will fix this.

      1. Does Florida import men from other states to become Florida Cops? I mean, can you be a Florida Man and a Florida Cop? It seems like the polarities would rip the creature apart.

        1. Why would they have to? If you’re a criminal, the best thing you can do is join the police. The benefits are better and you can get away with practically anything since the union will protect you.

        2. Why, you don’t think cops can say, “hold my beer and watch this” while on duty?

  4. Deputies are actually out there proactively looking for things that don’t look right; looking for suspicious things. If they see somebody riding a bicycle at 10 o’clock at night they may have a conversation with them.

    Deputies are also:
    -Taking up crotchet with all their downtime
    -Learning new languages
    -Spending more time with their children
    -Grasping at metaphysical concepts, like 2for1 doughnut deals at the 7/11-DunkinDonuts-BlueBunny downtown.

  5. So every college dorm is about to be raided? This should be awesome.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. They should start with FSU, I’ve heard that place is lousy with criminals.

      1. CrimiNoles, if you please. I’m not sure whose athletes won the All-Florida Mugshot Team this year. UF was off to a solid start with DUIs and Ag Assaults, but you can never count out UM or FSU, who seem to have just about trained their football players not to punch a woman in public.

        1. UM? Mark RIcht never had any issues at UGA…

          1. Maybe he’ll change the culture at Miami, too.

          1. Isn’t anyone playing ball for FSU fast enough or elusive enough to get away with that this year.

            1. Unless Publix is staffed by the Texas defense.

  6. I’ve heard that entire police departments have enriched themselves with stolen property.

  7. Thank god they’ve caught all the murders and rapists so they have time to concentrate on the important stuff.

    1. In Florida all the murders are committed by alligators and all the rapes are committed by manatees.

      1. It is a crime to resist a manatee. Or molest a manatee. I get confused.

    2. Rapists are easy to catch. Just arrest any male who tries to join a fraternity. Entrapment is so easy it cracks me up when they go through so much trouble with those *to catch a predator* schemes.

  8. I know of a certain place that has about a zillion misappropriated USPS mail bins. They’re incredibly useful for storage. Much more durable than plastic organizers or Rubbermaid stuff. I can’t figure out why nobody sells them for public use.

    1. I can’t figure out why nobody sells them for public use.

      The question is why nobody buys them when they can steal them. 33 bucks a pop would be the answer.

  9. Ah, so a previously unenforced law (which has been pointed to as proof of the libertarian moment) just became useful.


  10. I knew a guy in Berkeley around 1970 who was busted for pushing a shopping cart back to the store. He had been on his way there, found the cart, pushed it with him, and when he got to the last intersection before the store, the light was red, so he went down the sidewalk to the next intersection (which was much better to cross at anyway), and that’s when he got busted, because he was not headed back towards the store at that instant.

    Pink Cloud. Sold Berkeley Barb too. Nice guy. Probably why the cops busted him.

  11. Though these laws are ostensibly for the purpose of _________, they’re also handy tools for police to harass…

    Vital tools.

  12. If Reason really cared about property rights and the NAP, they’d advocate the dairy companies be allowed to shoot anyone who steals their milk crate. Property rights are either sacrosanct or they’re not.

    1. I’ve had a few milk crates in my day.

      None of them were stolen (by me). They were just kind of . . . around.

      So, this would be a tough one to actually do right in the real world. Possession of a milk crate =/= theft of a milk crate.

      1. Unless the various state laws are very specific, possession of a milk crate isn’t even necessarily possession of stolen property. I’m pretty sure that dairies lose milk crates to things other than theft all the time.

  13. No use crying over spilled milk. Let’s move on an crate a better place for everyone!

    1. Make America Crate Again!

      1. That’s what I should have written.

    2. Make America Crate Again?

  14. Good thing it wasn’t a raw milk crate, or he would have had a federal SWAT team from the Dept of Agriculture swarm down on him.

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