Are SFPD’s iPhone Sting Operations More Trouble Than They’re Worth? (Poll)

There’s nothing even remotely shocking about the fact that SF’s love of Apple runs deep. We worship at the temple of the Jobs regularly and it shows. Whether it’s a 3GS on its way to obsolescence or a fully tricked out iPhone 5, a large chunk of the city is reppin’ our neighbors in Cupertino. Not all of us, however, have gone about obtaining these phones in the most legal of manners.

Another unsurprising fact is that the area around Seventh and Market can be pretty damn shady, and functions as the go-to spot for stolen tech items. As BeyondChron’s Randy Shaw noted today, “if your phone is stolen in San Francisco, that is the first place you should go to buy it back.”

According to the Huffington Post, this area is where SFPD Officer Tom Lee acts as both decoy and seller in an attempt to nab both buyers and sellers of stolen smartphones. Though many shopping in this area say they are simply looking for a bargain-priced iPhone, others are reportedly looking to make even more off the pilfered phone through illicit international deals that may fetch them as much as $1,000 for a single iPhone.

What Lee typically does is act as a decoy seller, luring potential customers in with comforting colloquialisms and allowing them to pat him down, presumably to look for a gun or other law enforcement indicators. What many fail to notice, apparently, is the recording device taped to his chest. Once a deal has been made and cash changes hands, the buyer is usually arrested.

Lee and SFPD Captain Joe Garrity say they feel that their techniques do more good in the fight against iPhone thefts, though many have criticized the practice for its manipulation of innocent bystanders caught in a sting that yields unreasonably high consequences. In February, as the Huffington Post reports, an undocumented Mexican immigrant was arrested in a similar sting operation as he attempted to buy stolen iPhones. Unfortunately, the man spoke no English and was thus unable to understand the officer, who notified federal immigration officials. An attorney helped keep the man from being deported. He spent one week in jail, followed a community service sentence.

[polldaddy poll=”7072665″]

the author

Always in motion. April Siese writes about music, takes photos at shows, and even helps put them on behind the scenes as a stagehand. She's written everything from hard news to beauty features, as well as fiction and poetry. She most definitely likes pie.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!
  • Actually they’re not getting stolen phones back in this sting operation, they’re arresting people trying to buy “fake” stolen phones – provided by Apple – that the undercover cops have in their bags. Gascon told HuffPost that he’s not interested in prosecuting these cases, so what’s the point? Move on SFPD – there’s more important crimes to deal with.

    • Timothy Doyle

      Well said.

    • coop1234

      If you don’t at least create the illusion that the police will try to enforce the law, then the criminals have very little fear when they commit these crimes. Another example is car break-ins. Everyone knows these are low priority crimes and as a result you can see broken glass all down oak street on any given morning. It is frustrating to say the least (especially since I have had my car broken into 5 or 6 times living in San Francisco). This is an ongoing issue that is getting worse. SFPD should pursue aggressively.

  • Actually they’re not getting stolen phones back in this sting operation, they’re arresting people trying to buy “fake” stolen phones – provided by Apple – that the undercover cops have in their bags. Gascon told HuffPost that he’s not interested in prosecuting these cases, so what’s the point? Move on SFPD – there’s more important crimes to deal with.

    • Timothy Doyle

      Well said.

    • coop1234

      If you don’t at least create the illusion that the police will try to enforce the law, then the criminals have very little fear when they commit these crimes. Another example is car break-ins. Everyone knows these are low priority crimes and as a result you can see broken glass all down oak street on any given morning. It is frustrating to say the least (especially since I have had my car broken into 5 or 6 times living in San Francisco). This is an ongoing issue that is getting worse. SFPD should pursue aggressively.