-This is a historical and antique article that was written in 1872 detailing the criminal activities of pick-pocketers in New York City-
The activity of the pick-pockets of New York is very great, and they oftentimes make large “hauls” in the practice of their trade. It is said that there are about 300 of them in the city, though the detectives state their belief that the number is really larger and increasing. Scarcely a day passes without the police authorities receiving numerous complaints from respectable persons of losses by pick-pockets.
On all the street cars, you will see the sign, “Beware of Pick-pockets!” posted conspicuously, for the purpose of warning passengers. These wretches work in gangs of two, or three or four. They make their way into crowded cars, and rarely leave them without bringing away something of value. An officer will recognize them at once. He sees a well-known pickpocket obstructing the car entrance; another pickpocket is abusing him in the sharpest terms for doing so, while, at the same time, he is eagerly assisting a respectable gentleman, or a well-dressed lady, to pass the obstruction. One or two other pick-pockets stand near. All this is as intelligible to a police officer as the letters on a street sign. He knows that the man, who is assisting the gentleman or lady, is picking his or her pocket; he knows that the man who obstructs the entrance is his confederate; he knows that the others, who are hanging about, will receive the contents of the pocket-book as soon as their principal has abstracted the same. He cannot arrest them, however, unless he, or some one else, sees the act committed; but they will not remain long after they see him—they will take the alarm, as they know his eye is on them, and leave the car as soon as possible.
A lady, riding in an omnibus, discovers that she has lost her purse, which she knows was in her possession when she entered the stage. A well-dressed gentleman sits by her, whose arms are quietly crossed before him, and his fingers, encased in spotless kid gloves, are entwined in his lap, in plain sight of all the passengers, who are sure that he has not moved them since he entered the stage. Several persons have entered and left the vehicle, and the lady, naturally supposing one of them to be the thief, gets out to consult a policeman as to her best course. The officer could tell her, after a glance at the faultless gentleman who was her neighbor, that the arms so conspicuously crossed in his lap, are false, his real arms all the time being free to operate under the folds of his talma. The officer would rightly point him out as the thief.
The ferry-boats which go and come crowded with passengers, the theatres, and even the churches, are all frequented by pickpockets, who reap rich harvests from them. Persons wearing prominent shirt pins or other articles of jewelry frequently lose them in this way, and these wretches will often boldly take a purse out of a lady’s hand or a bracelet from her arm, and make off. If the robbery be done in the midst of a crowd, the chance of escape is all the better.
The street car conductors complain that they can do nothing to check the depredations of the pick-pockets. If they are put off the cars, they exert themselves to have the conductors discharged, and are generally possessed of influence enough to accomplish their ends. Strange as this may seem, it is true, for the pick-pocket is generally employed by the city politicians to manage the rougher class at the elections. In return for the influence which they thus exert the pick-pockets receive payment in money, and are shielded from punishment if unlucky enough to be arrested. Both parties are responsible for this infamous course, the party in power usually making the greatest use of these scoundrels. This is the cause of the confidence with which thieves of this kind carry on their trade. Those who desire the city’s welfare will find food for reflection in this fact.
Many of the pick-pockets are women, whose lightness and delicacy of touch make them dangerous operators. Others are boys. These are usually termed “kids,” and are very dangerous, as people are not inclined to suspect them. They work in gangs of three or four, and, pushing against their victim, seize what they can, and make off. Sometimes one of this gang is arrested, but as he has transferred the plunder to his confederates, who have escaped, there is no evidence against him.