Judge Rules Against NYPD Theft-Baiting

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Deirdre Myers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Photo: Seth Wenig

A New York City judge's harshly worded ruling has brought some attention to yet another questionable NYPD tactic: setting up elaborate scenes to encourage acts of theft. After a two-year legal fight, Judge Linda Poust Lopez has dismissed the larceny case against the Bronx's Deirdre Myers, a 40-year-old single mother with no criminal history who was arrested as a result of an "bait car" sting in in 2010. Myers and her 15-year-old daughter, Kenya, were sitting on their stoop when, according to the AP,

A dark car raced down the block before stopping. Another vehicle carrying plainclothes officers wasn't far behind. When the driver got out and ran, the officers gave chase, yelling, "Stop! Police!"

Myers' daughter, seeing that the driver left the car door open, went over and peered inside to see personal items that included what looked like a bundle of cash — in reality, a dollar bill wrapped around pieces of newspaper. The girl had called her mother over when another set of police officers suddenly pulled up in a van and forced them to the ground ... The officers took them into custody, even though they never touched anything inside the car, the suit says.

Judge Lopez ruled that upholding the charges against Myers "would greatly damage the confidence and trust of the public in the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and rightly so." While what happened to Myers was described as "extreme," the strategy behind it isn't new. Back in 2006, the NYPD began conducting so-called "lucky bag operations" as a way to deter subway theft: A plainclothes officer would leave a cash-filled handbag on the train platform and then watch to see if anyone picked it up. People who "passed up chances to return it to the undercover cop or to report it to a uniformed officer posted nearby" were subject to arrest. Shortly after, the NYPD started planting valuables in locked cars "so that a suspect would have to take the extra step of breaking in before being arrested."

A spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office said that prosecutors would not appeal the the ruling. However, defense lawyers in the Bronx have said that they are aware of "a few other" incidents featuring theatrics like those in the Myers case, while New York Civil Liberties executive director Donna Lieberman told the AP that she had only learned of the "bait cars" because of the incident. So, this probably isn't the last we'll hear about this particular program.