The Demise of Pickpockets

Jack Keohane, for Slate, ponders the lost art of pickpocketing. Not that anyone riding the subway or walking through a busy crowd is complaining.

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 and charged as a felony regardless of the amount taken) and better surveillance of hot spots and known pickpockets, that system has been dismantled.

Call me paranoid, but I have this weird preoccupation with being pickpocketted. Don’t ask why, but I always feel like it’s going to happen to me.

Comments on this entry are closed.