In a recent news report about a rash of bicycle thefts that were occurring in downtown Newnan, I was reminded of similar crime patterns we experienced in Atlanta while I worked for APD.
Several years ago, while at APD, we had what we called the Field Investigative Team which routinely worked plainclothes details driving unmarked cars. They were able to move about our zone in a stealthier manner, as criminals are always on the lookout for marked patrol cars.
The FIT came up with an idea of placing a bicycle they checked out of Police Property and placed it leaning against a no parking sign and sat off at a distance to see who would steal it.
They experienced several things that caused them to change their methods of operation. First, one thief was able to take the bike and speed away before capture. So, they checked out another bike from property and deflated the tires a bit to slow the next thief and make him easier to chase down.
Then after making several cases and was prepared to testify in court, a slick defense attorney, on the very first case, asked the officer who the bike belonged to. The officer explained they had checked the bike out of police property and the bike was in the custody of property awaiting the rightful owner to come and claim their property.
After repeated questioning about the ownership of the bike used in the detail, the defense attorney made a motion to dismiss the case as a victim (owner) could not be identified, and the judge agreed, dismissing all their cases, releasing all the accused. So, the FIT unit started using a bike belonging to one of the officers on the detail so as to establish a “victim” in the case which satisfied the judge and led to many convictions.
Another attempted baiting detail involved placing a toolbox full of tools in the bed of a pick-up truck in an attempt to charge the thief with a felony of theft by entering auto (to commit theft), but the judge again ruled unless the toolbox was inside the vehicle, the theft was not a felony. So, the FIT detail placed the toolbox on the front seat of the truck with the window down, so as to keep the thief from breaking the window of the truck, owned by an officer who loaned the truck and toolbox to be the victim in the cases.
Some more liberal-minded people might say all these actions by the police were acts of entrapment. But entrapment, at that time, was “placing the idea” of the crime in the mind of the criminal suspect. If for instance, an undercover officer asked a suspect if they wanted to buy a stolen bicycle, then that is entrapment because he implanted the idea of a criminal conspiracy in the mind of the suspect.
And criminals are always changing their methods of operation to elude capture. One time I was working a “pick-off” detail which involved me getting on the roof of a high-rise public housing unit with binoculars to observe drug dealers in action. This particular day, the drug dealers were all wearing different NFL jackets which made it easy for us to call out, “Get Pittsburgh Steelers, get Dallas Cowboys, etc.” The next day all the drug dealers were wearing Miami Dolphin jackets, which complicated the call.
Police work was fun back in the day, when criminals were the bad guys and the police were the good guys. Boy, has that been flipped on its head.
W.J. Butcher is a Coweta County resident and retired 26-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department. Send comments, kudos, and criticism to: firstname.lastname@example.org .