RAT Entrap

Police are luring the homeless into crime. Is this time well spent?

Snipes says he has heard about robbery decoy operations in Las Vegas and all over California, particularly in Los Angeles. In New York City in 2006, hundreds were arrested in Operation Lucky Bag, where police abandoned purses in the subway and waited for a thief.

In California, robbery stings like those set up by the RAT are tough to defend against because the bar for proving entrapment is high. Essentially, defense attorneys must show that police conduct would compel a normally law-abiding person to break the law. Most people wouldn't steal $20 from a drunken man's pocket — unless, say, they needed the money very badly, as many homeless people do.

As the RAT officers tell it, out in the Bayview that day, Shakka Clyde Jones lit Scrappy's cigarette with his right hand and reached into the decoy's breast pocket and nabbed the $20 with his left. Jones says he never touched the money. Regardless, after receiving the light for his cigarette, Scrappy gave the secret prearranged signal and the arrest team surrounded Jones and cuffed him.

Though Jones says the police emptied his pockets and tossed his cell phone, his disability ID, and his bus tickets on the ground, the cops didn't find the cash on him. According to the police report, a sergeant had seen Jones wedge the $20 bill into a crack in the sidewalk near him, where an officer later retrieved it.

Because he refused to plead guilty and was too poor to make his $15,000 bail, Jones spent 102 days in jail, missing Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even his birthday. He fell behind on his debt repayment, he says, setting him back about a year in securing public housing.

When Jones finally got his day in court, his lawyer, Carmen Aguirre, gave it her best. In her closing arguments, she analogized that if "a vault in the Pacific Exchange were opened up with no cameras, do you think everyone would be honest and just walk by?" For the vulnerable populations RAT targets, she said, "$20 or $40 is the equivalent of robbing a bank." The jury convicted Jones, but the judge knocked the felony charge down to a misdemeanor and sentenced him to 18 months' probation. To this day, Jones denies he took the $20.

As for why the officers approached him in the first place, one police report states the following: "I advised the officers via radio that there was a black male standing near a bench."

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