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Pickpocketing: A 'lost art'
The once-venerable crime, rich with drama and skill, has all but died out, says Joe Keohane in Slate. Why?
 
Since 1990, pickpocketing has dropped so dramatically in New York City that the NYPD no longer keeps stats on the crime.
Since 1990, pickpocketing has dropped so dramatically in New York City that the NYPD no longer keeps stats on the crime.
Corbis

Pickpocketing, "once a proud criminal tradition" in America, has largely gone the way of the dodo, says Joe Keohane in Slate. As recently as 1990, there were more than 23,000 pickpocketing incidents reported in New York City, with losses totaling nearly $10 million. But those numbers have dropped dramatically over the last two decades, and the problem has become so minor that the NYPD no longer keeps stats on it. While the art of the pickpocket has survived in Europe, the only practitioners left in the U.S. tend to be middle-aged men, Keohane says — and they're a "dying breed." Here, an excerpt:

"Experts offer a few explanations for the gradual disappearance of pickpockets in the United States. Crime nationwide — from pickpocketing to homicide — has been dropping since the mid-1990s. People carry less cash today, and thanks to enhanced security features, it's harder for thieves to use stolen credit or debit cards than it was in the past. And perhaps most important, the centuries-old apprenticeship system underpinning organized pickpocketing has been disrupted. Pickpocketing has always perpetuated itself by having older hooks — nicknamed "Fagins," after the crime boss in Oliver Twist — teach younger ones the art, and then absorbing them into canons. But due to ratcheted-up law enforcement measures, including heftier sentences (in some states, a pick, defined as theft from the body of another person, is charged as a felony regardless of the amount taken), and better surveillance of hot spots and known pickpockets, that system has been dismantled."

Read the entire article in Slate.

 

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