It is well-known among my friends at least, and somewhat of an inside joke, that I am not a particularly lucky person in many ways. I have a knack for bad timing that is pretty legendary, whether this means going to countries right when there is a coup attempt or civil war, or ending up in awkward situations with an alarming frequency. That said, it is probably a good thing that I don’t live in New York City, where the NYPD apparently takes bad timing to whole new levels. New York City has a well-earned reputation as a nanny state approaching Singapore (which is not a good thing), and today I read a story that helps explain why .
Among the many reality television shows around that showcase the behavior of police officers and criminals, and there are many such shows in existence, one of the more entertaining ones is a show called Bait Car. In the show police leave an unlocked car in a sketchy neighborhood and wait for people to take it for a joyride, and then swoop down and arrest them for grand theft auto with the video evidence in the car being used to increase the conviction rate. It is rather sad to see people take the bait and lie about the circumstances, pretending to own the car or something like that. One would think that after a while one would become suspicious of unlocked cars and therefore more inclined to behave in a law-abiding manner. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, as often the greed and curiosity of people exceeds their suspicion.
However, there are times when the police go way too far. The whole idea of a bait car, or a lucky bag, or anything like that strikes of entrapment, of enticing people to sin, that is wrongful. Even among those who consider the tactic to be acceptable see limits on that tactic, and a New York City mother and daughter found out the hard way that even looking at items left in a bait car after a fake police chase draws attention can lead to a false accusation and to a lengthy and expensive legal battle. Certainly jailing people, or threatening to jail them, for showing even the slightest curiosity toward the property of others that has been strategically left unattended will reduce crime, because people should get wary after a while, but there may be some unintentional consequences to this practice that have not been examined.
Among these consequences is increased hostility and suspicion of the police and government at large. Few people (aside from criminals) would begrudge the police departments of the world from investigating crimes and seeking to solve them. In fact, with some crimes (like rape and child abuse), the police can often be faulted for not doing enough against these crimes for a variety of reasons. When police departments move from this task to setting up people to lure them into committing crimes, then the matter becomes different. It is hard to be sympathetic with those who are actually thieves, since they did wrong and deserve punishment for their sins. However, when those who ought to defend the law and the population adopt dishonorable tactics, that dishonorable behavior and corruption can easily spread to other areas. All of us struggle against wrongful desires of some kind, and if it is okay to set traps for one type of lust, it is all too easy to ensnare anyone else. Even those who are virtuous and merely curious may be ensnared by overzealous law enforcement. In our desire to stop crime, we need to be careful to avoid becoming criminals ourselves.