A new report from The Huffington Post gives us a look into the San Francisco Police Department’s sting operations conducted with the intention of clamping down on iPhone thefts. Instead of targeting thieves though, the sting targets potential buyers with the police officers posing as sellers of stolen iOS devices.
From The Huffington Post:
Officer Tom Lee is playing the role of decoy in a sting operation targeting buyers of stolen iPhones. Beneath his sweatshirt, he wears a small recording device taped to his chest. Nearby, two plainclothes officers blend into the crowd, armed with guns to protect Lee should the deal go bad. A block away, two more officers sit in an unmarked car, awaiting Lee’s signal for them to make an arrest.
Lee approaches a heavy-set man standing outside the red awning of a Carl’s Jr. burger restaurant. The man wears glasses and a black pinstripe suit. He inspects the iPhone and offers $100. Lee takes the cash, hands over the phone and gives the signal. Four officers swoop in and place the man in handcuffs, notching another arrest in the intensifying cat-and-mouse game playing out here and in other major American cities between law enforcement and criminals looking to profit from the burgeoning trade in stolen mobile devices.
While targeting buyers might seem counter-intuitive, the SFPD hopes to “poison the market with fear and distrust,” thus killing the demand for stolen phones. Many of these stolen phones are shipped overseas to places like Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro where they’re sold for as much as $1000.
Apple also helps with these sting operations by loaning a number of iPhones to the SFPD, which they use to lure potential buyers. Lee himself worked at Apple before joining the police.
The move is of course controversial and has attracted its fair share of criticism:
“You’re basically creating crime or luring people to commit crimes,” says Chesa Boudin, a San Francisco public defender. “It’s an outrageous waste of resources.”
But the SFPD says that its strategy to combat iPhone theft is successful on the whole, with a few exceptions of arresting innocent people.