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April 15, 2013

Take the bait? Anti-theft tactics criticized

NEW YORK — Sometimes the bait is a small amount of cash in a stray wallet. Or a credit card. Even a pack of cigarettes can do the trick. Police in New York City leave the items unattended and wait to see if someone grabs them.

The New York Police Department says the practice has been a valuable tool fordeterring thefts. But a recent court ruling throwing out a larceny case against a Bronx woman cast a harsh light on a tactic critics say can sweep up innocent people.

Judge Linda Poust Lopez found that there was no proof Deirdre Myers tried to steal anything.

Myers, a 40-year-old single mother with no criminal record, has since sued the city, claiming she and her daughter were traumatized by a wrongful arrest in 2010.

Authorities began using “bait cars” about six years ago in the Bronx to combat a chronic problem with car thefts and break-ins. But the strategy used in the Myers case “was certainly the most extreme version of the operation that we’ve seen,” said her attorney, Ann Mauer.

According to court papers and to Myers’ account, she and her daughter, Kenya, were sitting on the stoop of their building when 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, her suit says.

Myers’ daughter, seeing that the car door was open, went over and peered inside to see personal items. The girl had called her mother over when another set of officers pulled up in a van and forced them to the ground, according to Myers’ account. The officers took them into custody, even though they never touched anything inside the car, the suit says.

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