- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

A pickpocket specialist with the Washington Metro Transit Police Department says it may take a thief to catch a thief, but cops who are trained to think like crooks can do just as well: They can learn to snag pickpockets who find their prey in crowded places.
Whether it's the Metro Center station at rush hour, FedEx Field, or the Pentagon City Mall, any place that attracts large crowds is a pickpocket's paradise. These smooth operators glide away with roughly $1 billion a year in other people's hard-earned cash and in the latest twist their identity.
"Every seven minutes a pocket is picked," said Metro Detective Cedric A. Mitchell, an expert when it comes to "the game" that's what pickpockets call the work they do.
Det. Mitchell, 42, has studied the pickpocket's personality for the past 10 years. He knows the pros like a book they have huge egos and they love to talk about the game. Since 1993, he has worked in the Metro Transit Police Criminal Investigation Division, where he is the primary investigator for all robbery-pickpocket cases. His job isn't for everyone; just as not everybody is cut out to be a homicide detective, or a coroner, the same applies for a pickpocket detective.
It is a job that requires patience to stand on a station platform for hours on end without one's powers of observation weakening. It also requires taking a lot of train rides. During the course of his work day, Det. Mitchell has spotted pickpockets at work even with uniformed officers standing nearby. The officers don't see a thing because they haven't been trained in the art of spotting the pickpocket, the detective points out.
Det. Mitchell will tell the officer and let justice take its course unless he has spotted the crime on his own turf, in which case the game is over and he will make the collar.
"Pickpocketing is a nonviolent crime which goes unnoticed, yet it is a felony. Still, it's a crime nobody talks about. Pickpockets know rapes, robberies and homicides receive major attention from law enforcement officials. Minor crimes don't get nearly the same attention. Even if they are convicted, they don't serve a lot of time," Det. Mitchell said.
To educate local law enforcement officials so they can in turn educate the public, Det. Mitchell offers a class called "The Art of the Game" for law enforcement and security personnel. The class is the only nationally recognized course of its kind in the country.
Earlier this month, Det. Mitchell and his team demonstrated for Metro police officers and seven other police departments in the region the various ploys pickpockets use to ply their trade. Another class is scheduled for the spring, he said.
"One of the many things officers learn is that the pickpocket theft can occur almost anywhere to anybody on busy street corners, in grocery stores, at malls, movie houses, airports, stadiums. As unbelievable as it may seem, people have been pickpocketed at church," he said.
And, there are all kinds of pickpockets, he said. There are "lush workers" the pickpocket who preys on the drunks. And "john workers" who rob people in public bathrooms.
However, Det. Mitchell says, "pickpockets have morals there is honor among thieves. They don't snitch on one another, and for the most part, they don't pickpocket black people. That's the rule. They look for Caucasians and Asians because they have the money and the credit." A pickpocket who steals an identity, for example, can cash in on a $250,000 home equity loan the victim may qualify for.
To stay on top of his game, Det. Mitchell treats the pickpocket with respect after he has apprehended his perpetrator. Pickpockets are intelligent people who take great pride in what they do for a living it's that big ego again.
"I always treat them with respect. I kill them with kindness. I get calls and Christmas cards from pickpockets," he said.
It's a mind game.
"Pickpockets consider themselves to be like surgeons. They play it out in their minds before the crime [is] committed. They have the gift of gab in most instances, when they are caught, it's by the victim not the police," he said. Then, the pickpocket makes up some excuse for having bumped into the intended victim and carries on a short conversation, using the "gift of gab".
Det. Mitchell, who has been featured on "Good Morning America," said Americans believe in good and the good in people. But, he adds, since September 11, we have seen that we are vulnerable.
That's why he thinks now is the ideal time to get the word out to fellow law enforcement officials. The Prince George's County resident said he hopes to take "The Art of the Game" to the nation.
He said the public is generally an easy mark. "People are easily distracted and we're not a society that pays attention. This crime plays on our weaknesses," Det. Mitchell said.
In a demonstration for a reporter from The Washington Times, Det. Mitchell and members of his team showed the ease with which pockets can be picked at the bustling Metro Center station in Northwest.
A woman dressed in a mink coat played the "mark," or victim, who is waiting for the subway to arrive. Her shoulder bag hangs at her hip and she's not paying attention to what's going on around her.
Det. Mitchell played the "cannon," the pickpocket who is considered the cream of the crop in the hierarchy of pickpockets. A train stops at the platform. Commuters and tourists exit in a jumble. Det. Mitchell picks her wallet.
The woman in mink didn't even know she had been touched. It happens that fast.

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