The New York police are using a very controversial decoy operation to arrest people who steal personal items from stores and public places. The problem is that it contradicts the law and seems to catch as many good Samaritans as crooks.
Police have been leaving purses and bags in stores, McDonalds, and subway stations to see if people walk off with them. If the people pick up the item and walk past a uniformed officer on the team without reporting the abandoned item, they are arrested. They can be charged with grand larceny, a Class E felony, that allows for up to four years incarceration.
The problem is that the law gives people 10 days to return such items, so the operation appears to arrest before the grace period has expired. It creates an interesting problem. Officers are obviously allowed to arrest for a crime that they witness. However, the suspects can claim that they were intended to return the item with the grace period and simply did not view the officer as an appropriate avenue for such a civic-minded duty.
The operation has proven controversial with the police department and courts in New York.
However, more than half of those 220 involved people with no prior criminal record. 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.
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