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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Pickpockets: A Lost Art and Dying Crime

     To avoid having your pocket or purse picked while Christmas shopping at the local mall, crime prevention experts recommend that men carry their cash and credit cards in front-pocket wallets and that women tote their handbags diagonally across their bodies. While there's nothing wrong with that advice, is it really necessary?  In America, are there any pickpockets left?

     Today, when people say they've had their pockets picked, they're usually referring to politicians, not those dexterous thieves who actually pick pockets and lift wallets from handbags. You don't hear much any more about those street larcenists with the educated fingers and nerves of steel. In the old days, as-told-to memoirs featuring the exploits of these soft-touch artists had a small niche in the true crime genre. But as far as I know, there hasn't been a book like this published for decades. Are these guys still around plying their sticky-fingered trade? Has pickpocketing become a lost art?

     In Europe, particularly Rome, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, pickpockets still mingle with the tourists. Most of them are from Bulgaria and Romania. But even in those cities, pickpockets are vastly outnumbered by their less talented criminal cousins, purse snatchers. In America, they have been replaced by armed street thugs. The FBI, through its uniform crime reporting system, no longer keeps track of reported pickpocketing cases nationwide.

     New York City has always been paradise for pickpockets. But even in the Big Apple, pickpocketing has been a dying criminal trade. In 1990, there were 23,000 reported cases, but in 2000, less than 5,000. Up until the 1970s, the city was home to organized pickpocket schools where students lifted wallets from mannequins outfitted with bells that would ring if the trainee lacked the required finesse. These academys are gone, and no one is passing the torch to a new generation of wallet-lifting thieves.

     The beginning of the end for professional pickpocketing came when people started carrying credit cards instead of cash. About the only people still practicing this ancient trade are a handful of professional magicians whose motives are entertainment rather than theft. These entertainers have the skill, but without the threat of detection, arrest, and jail, they don't possess the nerves of steel.    

    

2 comments:

  1. A lost art there but an art of living here in Bangladesh.

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  2. Where can I find more information, true stories, about pickpocketing in the U.S. during the 1960's & 1970's?

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