A Look at SFPD’s Sting Operations to Stop iPhone Thefts

iphone-5-unboxing-photos-22A 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thuong.ho.775 Po Wah

    Wow this is really stupid! I mean anyone would take the iPhone if the seller was only asking 100. All they’re doing is baiting to make a stupid arrest on innocent civilians instead of focusing on the thieves

  • Amsterpelli

    Sooo does the cop explain this is a stolen phone before offering to sell it? How do we know it’s not just someone desperate to pay off a debt .. are we supposed to have ESP?

    • Que

      Come on man. If someone is selling an iphone on the street for $100, they is a great chance it’s stolen. The thing to remember is that if someone is needing cash fast, they will pawn their phone because they know they have the opportunity to get it back. Besides, $100 for an iphone 5 is a “steal” :-)

      • filthyjason

        It’s only a crime if you knowingly purchased stolen property. If it turns out later it was stolen though, you could lose the property and of course the money you paid for it.

        • DrunkMunki

          So then technically, the lure the cops are using isnt stolen? therefore the “innocent” person isnt buying a stolen phone?
          only when the seller indicated its stolen can they justify this.

          • filthyjason

            Yep, if the cop says it’s stolen before they pay for it, then it’s against the law. they also can’t just walk down the street asking anyone if they want to buy a stolen phone or it’s entrapment. the person has to be seeking the deal and proceed after they hear it’s stolen for that to stick

  • Erick121

    this is ridiculous i bet that cops parents would buy an iphone for 100 police have no common sense

  • vin

    just put the” find my phone” app in your iphone then you dont have to worry about losing your iPhone ever again.. its called common sense!!

    • The Great One

      Actually if the person turns off the phone or puts it in airplane mode, no software can track it. Any tracking software requires the phone to have a link to it via satellite or wi-fi, and with the phone off neither work. Even if you have a software that prevents the phone from being shut off, you have to remotely tell it to not shut off. But by the time you realize your phone is lost, it’s most likely being turned off already. Sucks but that’s how it works. Unless someone else knows of something else.

      • tako

        just take out sim card and that it , why people bother buy any software like that it is useless 100 percent

  • archer pabon

    So, where did the police officer get this “stolen” iphone?…if the officer is trying to pretend to sell it, can you arrest people for that?

  • wee bay

    kinda entrapment?