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Putting the pinch on pickpockets.

Putting the pinch on pickpockets

THIEVES WHO STEAL FROM THE person of others continue to plague businesses and individuals to this very day. It's crucial for businesses that invite patrons onto their premises to have a safe, secure reputation among the public. Individuals who lose their money and credit cards to pickpockets on a company's premises are not going to want to do business there.

As the new security director for a real estate firm that owns and manages two major shopping malls on Chicago's trendy North Michigan Avenue, I came to the job anticipating problems with pickpockets. Police department statistics for pickpocket incidents in the North Michigan Avenue area and throughout the city had been on the rise.

The Christmas season had just ended when I came aboard. Retail activity usually slows down between mid-January and Easter and, as a result, fewer crimes are committed. Yet statistics from both Michigan Avenue shopping malls showed on decline in pickpocket reports.

Armed with these figures, I approached mall management with a proposal for an antipickpocket program that was more proactive and aggressive than anything tried previously. Management gave the go-ahead.

Statistics pinpointed the majority of pickpocket activity to be at the entrance doors of the malls and in the elevators. Some incidents took place on the escalators and in crowded stores.

Most picks operated in teams of two or three. Often a woman was part of the team. Victims were almost exclusively women. About 75 percent of the victims were tourists or shoppers from the suburbs, according to statistics.

Picks had several favorite ruses. For example, a pick would pretend to have a foot caught in the gap between an elevator car entrance and the floor to create a diversion and draw in victims. The well-meaning victim's reaction is to help the floundering pick. During the commotion, a second pick. During the victim's purse and lifts the wallet. If the team has a third member, the second pick passes the wallet to that individual.

Dropping coins on the floor is another common method of operation. The lead pick drops the money to create a distraction and, as a result, the victim who is behind him or her is blocked.

A scam used in revolving doors involves a lead pick preceding a victim into the revolving door. The lead pick then stops the door so the victim is caught in the closed-off section. The door is stopped at just the right point to permit the second pick to reach into the door from behind and rifle the victim's purse.

Escalator pickpockets sometimes sandwich victims stepping on or off the escalator when it is crowded. Escalators going up are a favorite for picks, who use a newspaper or other large, flat object to conceal their hand and finger movements. Pickpockets on an escalator going one direction have to act quickly to pick purses on an escalator going the opposite direction.

The skill level of pickpockets varies greatly. Some picks grope and block their victims so roughly that there is a question of whether the offense was pickpocketing or strong-arm robbery. Other picks have a very deft touch and don't even resort to blocking or distraction ruses. Pickpockets working solo are usually of this higher skill level.

Zipper-top purses rank first in the pickpocket's choice of targets. Teenagers are rarely victims. Pickpockets target those victims who will most likely have large amounts of cash.

Both of the company's Michigan Avenue shopping malls had uniformed in-house security staffs. The malls hired off-duty police officers working in plainclothes for the days and times when statistics indicated the greatest criminal activity. Through contacts with the Chicago police, officers who had records of being effective decoys were identified and recruited to work part-time for the shopping malls.

Recruiting police officers to work the existing shopping mall assignments was upgraded, and officers were monitored. Security supervisors were asked for their input as to which off-duty officers were out on the floor watching for suspicious activity and which officers waited in restaurants or the security office until called by radio.

The decoy teams were requested to dress in an upscale, casual manner since this style of dress matched the victim profile. The tactic used by the decoy teams was to spot suspicious persons and move in close proximity to the possible pickpocket. Care was taken to act like ordinary shoppers. A male officer kept pace with the female decoy officer so he could move in quickly if an offense occurred.

Beginning in February 1990, the antipickpocket program was put into effect at both malls for two months. Pickpocket arrests exceeded expectations. Eleven arrests were made, whereas in all of 1989 only nine arrests were made. Three arrests occurred when offenders attempted to pick the female police officer decoy. Other arrests took place when the suspects the decoy team was following made their moves on mall patrons who were nearby.

The presence of plainclothes decoy police officers in the shopping malls added an element of uncertainty and risk for the pickpockets. Now pickpockets know they can be caught even if they avoid the uniformed security officers.

The antipickpocket program worked so well that after two months the decoy officers were reporting they no longer saw likely pickpocket suspects. Pickpocket incidents in the two malls dropped to zero for April 1990.

This decrease wasn't because our program had arrested all the pickpockets working the North Michigan Avenue area. Pickpockets associate with one another, and the word was out to avoid our two shopping malls.

Pocket picking on North Michigan Avenue is lucrative. Eventually, when the pickpockets do return to the company's two malls on the Avenue, they will run up against a proven effective antipickpocket program. The process of reeducating the pickpockets to stay clear of these two shopping malls will begin again.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bue, Phillip T.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Words:971
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