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The NYPD Is Locking People Up for Crimes It Created Out of Thin Air

Operation Lucky Bag targets people whose actions hurt absolutely no one.

Paul Martinka / Splash News/NewscomPaul Martinka / Splash News/NewscomThe New York City Police Department (NYPD) is still trying to lure unsuspecting residents into committing petty theft so it can lock them up.

Operation Lucky Bag began in 2006, supposedly as a way for police to put away people with existing rap sheets. Undercover officers would plant a bag, usually with money or other valuables inside, in a public place. They'd wait for someone to "steal" the planted property then make an arrest.

In other words, they were creating crimes out of thin air. If, indeed, they were crimes at all. Under state law, people who find property worth more than $20 have 10 days to either return it to the owner or give it up to police.

Unsurprisingly, the practice drew controversy. In 2013, several people adversely affected by Operation Lucky Bag filed a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD. The following September, the two sides reached a settlement. The police clarified that "a person picking up property that they find cannot be charged with larceny simply because they fail to return property to a police officer who is located near the site at the time the property was found," according to a January 2015 operations order provided to Reason by an NYPD spokesperson. Arrests can only be made if there is "a separation of any valuables from the rest of the property" (i.e., if a person takes cash out of a planted bag and discards the bag), if "a larceny by trespassory taking has occurred" (i.e., if someone grabs a bag hanging from a stroller), or if "an individual has taken property but denies seeing or possessing the property when approached by" police.

But police are still able to fabricate crimes—crimes that hurt no one—just so they can lock people up. Two recent cases illustrate the absurdity of this tactic.

On December 14, police planted a backpack outside a Macy's department store in Manhattan. The bag's contents included a laptop, an iPad, and a wallet with $40 in it, according to the New York Daily News. A pedestrian, Tamarit Orquidea, noticed the bag and picked it up. "I would have taken it to the precinct down the street from my house," she told the Manhattan Times last month. Instead, she got arrested.

Police claim that Orquidea walked by a uniformed traffic cop while carrying the bag and that she put the $40 in her pocket. Whatever Orquidea's true intentions were, she was not hurting anyone. Police had no way of knowing what she was going to do with what she found, and arresting her did nothing to help keep the streets safe.

The same can be said of Cinque Brown, who police entrapped using the same bag roughly 30 minutes earlier. Brown picked the bag up and failed to give it to a nearby traffic cop. He apparently decided not to and was arrested as a result. Neither Orquidea nor Brown represented a menace to society, but both were still charged, Orquidea with petty larceny and Brown with petty larceny and possession of stolen property.

"I just don't understand why this is still going on in this city—I really don't," Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Crane said during Brown's December 15 arraignment hearing.

Two nonprofit legal defense organizations—New York County Defender Services (NYCDS) and the Legal Aid Society—tell the Daily News they've represented at least nine people entrapped by Operation Lucky Bag in recent days.

I don't have the relevant data for the latest wave of arrests, but of the first 220 people arrested after the program's implementation in February 2006, more than half did not have a prior criminal record. The alleged point of Operation Lucky Bag, you may recall, was to catch repeat offenders.

Photo Credit: Paul Martinka / Splash News/Newscom

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  • Bubba Jones||

    I thought the quintessential feel good story was when someone went home and then contacted the owner directly? Why do the police need to be involved?

  • Kevin Smith||

    If you return it to the owner directly then how can the police take a cut?

    It seems the lesson is don't even bother trying to be a good samaritan, just leave the bag where it is

  • ArmyATC||

    Or just call the bomb squad on a suspicious package and blow up their bait.

  • some guy||

    + 1 If you see something, say something.

  • herrjon||

    Right on the money. THIS is the right answer.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Be a Civic hero, blue it up yourself and save the tax payers money.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    I blue myself this morning.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    No. See something, say something. Call the DHS terrorism hot line.
    Stand near it so no other innocent rube is tempted to swipe it. When the bomb squad shows up, embellish a little, say you saw some swarthy brown fellow look at it. Make them prove otherwise, and if they bring out surveillance video to show no one swarthy walked by, that'll just dig them in deeper with the DHS.

    Make the damned cops sweat. Make the DHS so pissed about all these fucking calls for entrapment bags that the cops stop playing stupid games.

    For once make the DHS work for YOU.

  • IamNotEvil||

    DHS terrorism hotline.

    "There's an unattended bag/backpack in a public location and a man in uniform acting suspicious nearby. I think the bag was beeping."

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    We did have the Bob squad robot on the street where I work a few years ago. Probably 2,000 people watching from all the windows in the surrounding buildings, pretty good way to kill productivity for an afternoon.

  • Matthew Chalice||

    OT: Guess which former Reason writer is being a shameless hypocrite. Again.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I thought you were going to surprise us? Lol

  • Robert||

    Bob Poole, say it ain't so!

  • Robert||

    Hitler?

  • AlmightyJB||

    What good is power if it's not arbitrarily applied?

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Tim Allen concurs.

  • Benitacanova||

    Sounds like a sociology experiment. Poor Cinque. I hope his siblings Quatro y Tres don't get caught up in the sting.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I really don't think we want to open up the whole victimless crimes can of worms.

  • ||

    Government: Hurting the weak since......forever

  • Gretz||

    I think the object lesson is for decent people to get out of New York, as fast as possible.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    That would be my object lesson, or better yet don't go there in the first place. And yet the denizens of that metropolis keep electing the likes of Bloomberg and Cuomo. I suppose they get the government they deserve.

  • Tionico||

    with all I've learned about what goes down in NYC I don't even want to fly through any of their airports, let alone walk their filthy sidewalks. MAYBE drive across the middle or upper part of the state to get somewhere, anywhere, else. I refuse to even contribute the airport tax/landing fees for a short layover at any NY or NJ airport. I vote with my moneypoke

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Did we just become best friends?

  • BarkingSpider||

    They are losing more people than are coming in. Love to see that cesspool go bankrupt as more taxpayers keep leaving. Oh and a big Fuck You to Andrew Homo the Dicktator of NY!

  • Don't look at me!||

    Crime is so low in NY that cops have to make some crimes to keep busy. A true utopian city that the rev talks about.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "The Rev" would only approve entrapment for us bitter clingers.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    A bag full of guns left on a street corner? What could go wrong.

  • Brandybuck||

    In other less enlightened jurisdictions this is called "entrapment".

  • Crusty Juggler||

    So you're telling me that these criminals committed a crime, were arrested for committing a crime, and we're supposed to have a problem with that?

    I thought Libertarians believed in the Rule of Law.

  • Kevin Smith||

    Just because something is technically a crime doesn't mean it should be a crime

    Also, it seems in some cases there wasn't even a crime, state law gives them 10 days to find the owner or turn the bag over to police, but they were being arrested immediately

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    You know about Crusty, don't you?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    That I am a handsome man with a big fucking dick who makes girls cum buckets?

  • Rossami||

    I was going to say that Crusty is someone who hasn't yet mastered the communication of sarcasm, but then you go and make a comment like that.

    Seriously, though, sarcasm is hard for both writers and readers. If you can't make your sarcasms obvious to all, don't try. When your "golden prose" gets misunderstood, it's very rarely the reader's fault.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    If you can't make your sarcasms obvious to all, don't try.

    Agreed.

  • SQRLSY One||

    "When your "golden prose" gets misunderstood..."

    I have the same kind of problem when I offer people to share a golden shower with me!

    (Me, very sternly): I am SICK AND TIRED of yer shit!!!

    (Short pregnant pause).

    (Me, softly and slyly): Now can I have some of yer piss?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Q: What's grey and comes in quarts?

    A: Whales

  • Crusty Juggler||

    And the girls I slay with my giant hog.

  • Robert||

    STEVE SMITH NEED WORK ON HANDSOME PART.

  • MJBinAL||

    Hmm, let me help you ...

    "That I BELIEVE I am a handsome man who IS a big fucking dick who makes girls CRY buckets?"

    There, fixed it for you!

  • Juice||

    Just because something is technically a crime doesn't mean it should be a crime

    RULE. OF. LAW.

    maybe with little clapping hands emojis in between or something.

  • Lou Dax||

    There was no crime committed. Read the statute. There is no crime until 10 days has passed, regardless of what the person who finds the property does or intends to do with it.

  • awildseaking||

    Why wouldn't they give the bag to a nearby officer if they were planning to return it later? Wouldn't that be easier?

  • Liberty Lover||

    What if the officer is corrupt and keeps it, but says he saw you pick up the bag. Your word against a sworn officer of the law. You lose.

    Now, you take it to the precinct. There are witnesses, you get a receipt. In most place (though I don't know about New York) if the owner cannot be found or does not claim the items in a specified amount of time you get to keep those found goods. You win.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Do you trust the cops that much? With all of the corrupt cops that we read about all of the time?

    If I found such a thing, I'd be scared shitless of giving it to a cop, for fear that they'd find 2 or 3 molecules of pot or smack or coke on it, and they'd bust me good and hard!

    I'd feel MUCH safer trying to return it to the owner! If no ID found on it? Then I was just cleaning up some litter!

  • some guy||

    The substance issue is the main reason to never touch a strange bag. Just call it in as a suspicious, abandoned package and let it sort itself out.

  • some guy||

    The substance issue is the main reason to never touch a strange bag. Just call it in as a suspicious, abandoned package and let it sort itself out.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    There's another tactic you can use in a situation like this. Haven't seen anyone mention it yet, though.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Cry #meToo?

  • MJBinAL||

    I do like the suggestion of calling DHS, maybe a TV station right after that mentioning you called DHS.

  • awildseaking||

    I don't distrust police to that degree and even if I did, the existence of corrupt officers doesn't excuse you from not reporting a murder or a robbery, so I don't see why this would be any different. There's always a chance that the cops will screw you, just like there's a chance the cashier or your boss will screw you over.

  • BadLib||

    In most cases I would assume a police officer I ran across after picking up a lost bag had something better to do, like perhaps preventing/solving crime, than to deal with junk that distracted disorganized people leave behind by accident. I wouldn't want to interfere with legitimate police work by distracting them.

    Obviously NYPD has too many officers if they are devoting officers to standing around in anticipation that someone may find something and turn it into them. It's time to lay off a lot of officers as real crime in NYC is obviously non-existent.

    Seriously, it really wouldn't occur to me to turn something I found to a nearby officer if there was a precinct nearby where I could turn it in to a desk jockey any more than I would inform an officer about a dripping faucet in a public park rather than calling the relevant public agency and reporting it.

    Although, generally, I would leave the bag right where it is. First, the person who left it might have left it just a couple minutes ago and come back to get it. Second, well, drugs etc. Third, the possibility of a large

  • BadLib||

    ...boom ['preview' happily shows a unicode "bang" emoji but when actually posting it disappears and truncates the rest of the post :(] I touch it (although if I had a reason to believe that was very likely I would call 911 and attempt to shoo people away from the area).

    (What good is a 'preview' button that doesn't actually show what will be published?)

  • Rossami||

    In addition to all of the above, the one time I tried to turn something in to a copy who was nearby, I got yelled at rather loudly. While I resented his tone, he did have a point that he was trying to actually be a cop and wasn't set up to be a local lost-and-found.

  • Tionico||

    that requires one to believe that the handy dandy copper standing there is an honest hardworking dude... in NYC that's a REAL stretch. I'd not trust the buy.. I MIGHT take it to some precinct stationhouse, turn it over, and demand a receipt fot the bag with itemised list of contents, examined in my presence.

    Besides, flipping it to the copper presupposes, of necessity, the bag is not theirs, AND "clean". What if the bag was NOT theirs, but was a drop bag from a drug dealer and had half a key of some "controlled substance" in it. Turning it over to the flatfoof standing there leaves ME vulnerably "responsible" for the contents found inside it.
    too risky. Now, if I take it to a statioinhouse, tell the story of how it came into my possession, declare I have not opened it, and something "ugly" is found within (drugs, needles, untaxed cigs, a heater....) and calmly surrender it to the guy at the desk, the chances of my getting pinched for the contents of it are small.

  • ManceSpooner||

    //"I just don't understand why this is still going on in this city—I really don't," Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Crane said during Brown's December 15 arraignment hearing.//

    Because FYTW!

  • Tionico||

    so WHY is that judge not getting up in the grilles of the dirt coppers pulling this caper, AND their supes? SHE knows the law... ten days the finder has to dispose if it before a crime has occurred. So the coppers are committing perjury by swearing they witnessed the innocent finder violating that law. SHE should be nailing THEM instead of continuing on with the cases. EVER ONE should be dismissed with prejudice. Oh, and send up the DA for filing tjese cases in violation of HIS oath.... see how many more grab bags fet left lying about.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Well isn't that what cops do in a police state do?
    Put people in jail for made up crimes?
    Otherwise we wouldn't be living in a police state for crying out loud!

  • some guy||

    Yeah, this isn't any more made up than drug possession.

  • DajjaI||

    Yes this is a problem, but there are no 'reforms' that could possibly solve it. In fact they will only backfire in new and spectacular ways. The only solution is to gradually reduce funding for law enforcement. That means, don't clap and cheer when the next candidate for mayor promises to "hire another 100 police officers". Please, just stop.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    On the nose

  • Tionico||

    Ive got one serious problem with your solution.... why GRADUALLY reduce LE finding? How's about chopping it in half for starters? then the other half will be on the hook to actually preserve law and order... so they'll have to leave off their stupid kid games and really become cops.

  • MJBinAL||

    Unfortunately they won't, they will focus entirely on handing out speeding tickets and things of similar nature that raise revenue at little risk to the officers. If they do anything at all.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    What do you all think if this was a bicycle instead of a bag? Because I saw one of these stings using a bicycle and it seemed reasonable to do while this just seems unreasonable. Is it because a bicycle is mode of transportation so the assumption is the owner will return for it when they are prepared to travel, where as an unintended bag on the street the assumption is that the owner forgot it? With the bicycle being taken I see clear signs of theft but with the bag, I've no clue what the person picking it up would end up doing with it.

  • SimpleRules||

    If I leave a bag of money outside a police station, can I make a citizen's arrest?

  • herrjon||

    Isn't a little dated and dangerous to encourage the general public to regularly give bags or parcels of unknown origin to the police?

    If you leave a bag un-attended at an airport it is blown up for fear of containing explosives.

    I can't really understand the mentality of New York residents. New York residents basically give up their rights to unfair search and seizure, the 2nd amendment, and are regularly arrested for non-crimes such as this...

    For what? Please explain! Anyone willing to pick up an unknown bag is pretty brave if you ask me. If they later figure out how to return it to the owner then they are the true hero... not the police.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""I can't really understand the mentality of New York residents. New York residents basically give up their rights to unfair search and seizure, the 2nd amendment, and are regularly arrested for non-crimes such as this..."'

    As someone who has lived here for almost 30 years. The answer is terrorism, specifically 9/11. While people talk about how it affected them when they saw it on TV, seeing it in real life has a much bigger impact.

    Consider Ghouliani was on his way to be one of the most hated mayor's in NYC. Then 9/11 and he became one of the most loved. America's Mayor.

    While you can call out NYers for giving up their rights I would like to point out the rest of the country has little problem TSA sexual assaults, sorry, pat downs. All for the same reason. Safety. (Cue Ben Franklin quote)

  • KWlib||

    Considering the state of things today, the only logical response is to ignore it and keep walking. It's a near-zero chance that the value of what's in the bag would make it worth the down side of picking it up. Nothing you do can end well for you.

    Seriously, even if I saw a crying toddler with no accompanying adult I would never consider approaching he/she/it. In fact I would probably reverse course and slink away, hopefully unseen. Even dialing 911 would make you a suspect.

    All the alarmist morons can thank themselves for the fucked up world we live in today.

  • ddavel||

    "I just don't understand why this is still going on in this city—I really don't," Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Crane said ...... Well, allow me to answer this for you ~ It is still going on because the NYC Police Dept. are Criminals with Badges!!....Each and every one of them!

  • Tionico||

    stupid judge needs to haul these sick coppers up in front of her bench, along with the corrupt DA's, and get in their faces. Tell them in no uncertain terms to END IT. Actually, charge the cops with perjury... and the DA as well. They have to swear that the offense took place.. but the statute being used immediately gives ten days for the finder to locate the owner and return it OR surrnder to pplice. Until ten says have passed, no crime. Yet these guys are both swearing a crime occurred, when one did NOT. That is perjury. Bust a few dirty coppers at their sick game and see how quickl this little kiddies' game lasts.
    If I were entrapped thusly I'd use that in my defence, and also take action directly against the cop for his perjury.. go after his personal bond and insurance. He's out of work till its cleaned up and settled.

    See how HE likes being trapped... by his own stupidity

  • Tionico||

    the repeat offenders are the clowns wearing the government issued costumes and kidnapping innocents. HOW can they PROVE the person finding these things has any evil intent, or plans to surrender it or work at trying to find the rightful owner?

    These guys are baiting and switching.... they leave the bait lying about, wait for a helpful citizen with intent to secure it agianst real theft and seek to find the owner... then turn that person into a criminal.

    Nope the CLowns in Blue are the evil ones.

  • IceTrey||

    So the NYPD is leaving unattended bags around Manhattan? In THIS day an age!?

  • David Welker||

    If someone is a "repeat offender" because the government set them up, I would question whether the term "repeat" has any applicability whatsoever to anyone besides the government. It seems that the increase in crime in such a case is caused by the government.

    Also, in this case, the police are creating crimes that would not otherwise happen. It seems like the real goal is not to reduce crime, but get rid of "bad people."

    Look, I have had multiple bikes stolen. I think people who steal things are irritating, to say the least. But, I don't think we ought to be creating crimes that would not otherwise exist in order to locate and "correct the morals" of such people. I am not going to leave my bike unlocked and unattended merely so I can catch someone who will take whatever opportunity they can to steal.

    It is like, if you put a bunch of cocaine near a cocaine addict, and lo and behold, they steal it and you are then scandalized. We already know that this person is likely to have difficulty controlling themselves. Why make it even more difficult by setting them up?

  • Del Varner||

    They are just taking a cue from the British, who have an offense called "theft by finding"

  • Spiritus Mundi||

    I'm surprised they only left money in it. If they put a kilo of coke in it, they could nab them for possession and intent as well. NYPD is getting sloppy.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    The NYPD is just getting even for the courts putting an end to "stop and frisk"

  • ||

    There is a name for this urge to criminalize people by any necessary means. It is called the Mueller-Weismann syndrome.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    """I just don't understand why this is still going on in this city—I really don't," Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Melissa Crane said during Brown's December 15 arraignment hearing."'

    That police biometric database isn't going to populate itself.

  • Naaman Brown||

    "Found" property is often treated as "abandoned" property under the finders-keepers rule.

    If I drive off and leave say $5 or $10 worth of stuff and it would cost me $7 in gas to drive back and get it, I am willing to accept the loss and let the finder keep it and not begrude them..

    If the value of the property exceeds the abandoned "junk" value I would consider it ethical and expected to turn it in to the lost-and-found.

    I am not surprised tho' that NYPD is engaged into tempting people to commit victimless "crimes".

  • Ilya Shlyakhter||

    I wouldn't think of giving a find to a cop on duty, as I'd assume the cop has more important things to deal with.

    Last time my wife found a wallet, finding its owner (an out-of-towner) was a detective story, we ended up calling an air traffic control place in another state where she worked, but we did find her. I'm not sure if police would have time for all that, or if we'd want them spending time on that, instead of on fighting crime.

  • James Pollock||

    Where are the 1983 lawsuits?

  • BarkingSpider||

    I choose not to interact with the police for any reason. Nothing good can ever come of it. Stats show if you call the police to your home there is a 50% chance YOU will go to jail.

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