This story is over 5 years old.

The Cops Issue

Pickpocket Pointers

Wise up, cholly! Pickpockets are all around you. You think these guys stopped working in the 1940s? Come on! Why do you think we still have those announcements on city buses about watching out for them?

Using a box cutter blade to remove pockets

Wise up, cholly! Pickpockets are all around you. You think these guys stopped working in the 1940s? Come on! Why do you think we still have those announcements on city buses about watching out for them? In 2001, $8,665,446 worth of property was stolen by pickpocketing in New York State. In 2004, larcenies in the NYC subway went up 4.9 percent. Care to hazard a guess why? Because everyone has an iPod on them, complete with the telltale white headphones. You guys are sitting ducks out there! Randy Stoever was the head of the NYPD’s pickpocket squad for nine years. He’s seen every lushworker, dip, cannon, stall, and vic A Pickpocket’s Dictionary
Fanning: lightly touching a pocket to see if there’s money or a wallet in it
Cannon, Hitter: a pickpocket
Stall: a partner who distracts a victim
Vic, Mark: the victim of a pickpocket
Jostling Squad, Po-Po: the police
Players: fellow pickpockets.
Hide: a wallet
Looping: when a pickpocket goes from one end of a train line to another, transferring back and forth for hours in the city (we have no idea what the fuck that means either). “Pickpockets are some of the smartest uneducated people around,” says Stoever. “Their techniques can be inventive and daring, but you still see guys arrested four or five times—career pickpockets. They’re usually about 40 years old and a lot of them have been doing it since they were 12. Most of the people I busted that worked the buses in Queens were South American but I have arrested every kind—all races, creeds, and ages. “When we would see a known pickpocket who was on parole, we’d bring him to the attention of his PO and get stipulations added to his parole that would stop him from going on subways or buses.
“We were a really aggressive squad, so we were very effective. I personally debriefed all the pickpockets we arrested. Perps always told me that they knew about us and lived in fear of being caught by my unit.” The 12 New York Pickpocket Breeds: A Field Guide



This is the guy who reaches his hand into your front or rear pocket to take your wallet. Most of his vics are male. A good way to foil this jerkoff is by wrapping a rubber band around your wallet, making it impossible for him to just slip it out.


He mostly preys on women with purses, but can also target anyone with a backpack. Most of the time, he's shielding his working hand with a coat or newspaper in his free hand, providing a screen to work behind.


This is a team. The stall stands in front of the vic and drops something, like money or a Metrocard. He bends down and stops the vic in his tracks. The vic bumps into the stall and falls into a forward-leaning position. The cannon comes in from behind and removes the vic’s wallet from his pocket. This happens a lot at the tops of escalators.


He uses a straight razor to slice the side of a bag that he wants into, then reaches into the slit. This one is big during the holidays, when women are riding the subways with a lot of packages in addition to their purses. Some cutters even use scissors to cut the straps right off a bag and take the whole thing. How about the balls on these guys?!


He walks along the outside of trains looking for sleepers, then comes in and nudges them to see if they wake up. If they do, he acts like a Good Samaritan. If the vic doesn’t wake, he goes into their pocket. If he can’t get into a pocket, he’ll cut their pants, taking the pocket right off.



The classic ketchup or mustard pickpockets. Sometimes these guys even squirt their vic with pigeon shit. Often the squirter will be an elderly woman or man. They’ll squirt you from afar, then come over and offer to help clean you up with napkins. While they’re scrubbing away, either they or an accomplice robs you.


These guys work in teams. A couple of them will start a fake fight. While the vic is watching this, the cannon will make the dip.


He targets restaurants, hitting purses that are hanging on chairs. Randy Stoever says, “I once saw a team at a Krispy Kreme on 86th Street. He had his back to a couple of old ladies. His partner was signaling to him when it was all clear. He went behind his back, reached into her purse, and removed her wallet.”


One of the perps walks up to a train door that’s about to close and pretends to get his foot stuck. When the well-meaning vic comes forward to help, another pickpocket swoops in and robs him. After they get the wallet, the first perp will get up and walk away. Again: Balls.


He takes his left arm out of its sleeve and reaches all the way behind his body and into his neighbor’s bag or pocket. “We saw this guy contorting himself so bad the vic thought he was having a seizure,” says Randy. “He said, ‘You need the whole seat, sir?’ and the perp snapped at him, ‘Don’t move! Just stay there!’”



These female pickpockets snatch purses from right off the coat hook on the inside of a stall door while a female vic is using the john. Often, the perp will have a partner in the stall next to the vic who will create a distraction like dropping something on the floor near their shoes.


He will pick pockets with no crowd around, coming right up behind you, opening your bag, and removing your wallet. This fucker is what is known as deft. Most vics won’t even recall being bumped.

If you can rob a guy coming the opposite way you are basically a Thetan level 8 of pickpocketing.

PICKPOCKET: adidas/Vice adicolor jacket, 686 wallet, Nudie jeans / BAG-OPENER (l-r): Vintage t-shirt, Crumpler Maurice bag, Paul Frank wallet, JBrand jeans; Insight51 button-up shirt, New York Post newspaper, jeans model’s own /

THE BUMP AND STALL (l-r): shirt and jeans model’s own; Quiksilver jacket, Jack Spade bi-fold wallet, Nudie jeans; APC jeans, Nike shoes, shirt model’s own / THE CUTTER (l-r): American Apparel hoodie, Strhess messenger bag, Paul Frank purse wallet; Burberry trench coat / THE LUSHWORKER (l-r): Matix shirt; OP Baja, Quiksilver jeans, Jack Spade bi-fold wallet / THE SQUIRTER (l-r): American Apparel hoodie, J-Fold wallet, Nudie jeans; clothes model’s own /

THE DISTRACTERS (l-r): American Apparel v-neck t-shirt, Vice/Lowlife belt buckle, Kill City jeans; H&M mesh tank top, APC jeans; H&M jacket, Paul Frank wallet / EATERY WORKER Paul Frank wallet, Jack Spade messenger bag /

PRATFALL (l-r): Nudie jeans, American Apparel hoodie; Nike jacket, Polo wallet, Crate Denim jeans; clothes model’s own / OLD MAN ON THE BUS (l-r): Paul Frank wallet, Nudie jeans, shirt model’s own; clothes model’s own /

LADIES ROOMERS All clothes models’ own / THE CREEPER (l-r): ID leather jacket, Mishka NYC sweater, Nomad Tribe jeans, Nike shoes; Live Mechanics shirt, Medium/Adobe bag, pants model’s own