A NH police sting operation, conducted by the Manchester Police Department during the holiday shopping season was mostly unsuccessful. The police left a cash-filled purse and a bag with a DVD player in an unattended cart outside stores in Manchester, in order to see if dishonest shoppers would take the bait. The cart with the items was left outside a Walmart, and at the Mall of New Hampshire. The stings were meant to combat what is usually an increase in thefts during the holiday shopping season.
The NH police were very pleased by the number of people who noticed the bag and purse, and then took steps to return the items to their rightful owners. Under New Hampshire law, a person who obtains lost or mislaid property must try to return it. Those who fail to return the property face a class-A misdemeanor charge with the potential of jail time, a fine or both. Only two people were arrested after walking away with the items and putting them in their cars.
Concerns About NH Police Stings
Holiday theft prevention is always a priority for police departments, after all, nothing ruins a holiday faster than stolen gifts. Unfortunately, the rate of theft in NH, like most states, increases during the holiday season due to the greater opportunities for thieves. Of course, some question whether NH theft prevention stings are the proper method to help prevent holiday theft.
Sting operations are often fraught with ethical and legal concerns. Some argue that sting operations, like the one undertaken by the Manchester Police Department, constitute entrapment.
Entrapment is conduct by the police which induces a person to commit an offense that the person would not have otherwise committed. In other words, entrapment is police activity that encourages a person to break the law. If the police entrapped the defendant, then the defendant can use that as a defense in court, which may prevent a conviction.
It is certainly arguable that the Manchester, New Hampshire Police Department's sting operation should be considered entrapment. In the Manchester Police Department's sting operation, there is some question as to whether those arrested would have taken the merchandise if the police had not presented the property in such a way.
Entrapment is not a foolproof defense, however. Many courts hold entrapment to a very narrow definition, only allowing it to be used a defense where the police pressure or coerce the defendant into committing a crime.
The most important part of the Manchester Police Department's sting operation is the knowledge that the police are always trying to catch those looking to steal from others' carts. It is unlikely that the police, prosecutor or jury will believe that someone taking property that does not belong to them and putting it in their car, did so in order to find the proper owner.
Knowing that the police in New Hampshire are conducting stings and stepping up other efforts to catch thieves, New Hampshire citizens would be best served by avoiding the temptation and leaving any property that does not belong to them alone.