Migrant crews have been using children as decoys to rob unsuspecting tourists in Times Square, The Post has learned.
In the area – from Sixth Avenue to Eighth Avenue between West 42nd Street and West 49th Street – the number of pickpocketing complaints has skyrocketed 222% – to 187 so far this year, up from 58 during the same period this year 2022, NYPD data shows.
“This can’t be allowed to happen,” said New York Police Chief John Chell. “People will go back to where they came from and say, ‘I spent half of my trip canceling my credit cards.'”
When they were arrested, the pickpockets told police they were from Central and South America, police said.
It is not clear whether they are among the roughly 110,000 asylum seekers who came to the city last year because police officers are barred from applying for immigration status.
Police Officer Joe Soldano, a leader of the pickpocket squad, said some of the thieves use children, even toddlers, to distract tourists while they go about their business.
The force recently tied up a mother who had committed a pickpocketing while pushing her baby in a stroller, he said.
“We got the baby back at the station and had to leave the entire hospital [child services] route,” Soldano said.
Often, a pickpocket parent will lead a child to a tourist and have the child “walk in front of him, stop briefly or stand next to him and accidentally bump into him,” he said. “And the father goes in the bag.”
In a recent case, Soldano arrested a father who had padded a tourist’s wallet.
“I grabbed him with the wallet in his hand. . . I arrested him and the boy ran away,” he said.
Pickpockets often use static props such as bags and other items to hide their sleight of hand.
Others were “just bold,” Soldano said. “We saw a few people [with] No support on them, just put them in someone’s pocket. We watched one guy commit three separate incidents. We followed him the whole time. He just dives into people’s pockets.”
There’s so much hustle and bustle in Times Square that victims don’t always realize they’ve been scammed, he said.
“It’s a lot of tourism and people don’t feel it,” he said.
However, the biggest challenge for the teams at the moment is the victims themselves.
“They don’t believe we’re police officers,” he said of the plainclothes team. “So, it’s very hard when they act like they’re running from you.” He said police tried to make sure they had uniformed officers on hand.
Chell said the scale of pickpocketing in Times Square led to the creation of the 13-member squad in April.
“Earlier in the year we saw a huge influx of pickpockets around Times Square,” Chell said. “It’s still out of control, but it’s getting better.”