As a part of The Huffington Post's "iTheft" series of articles detailing the black market for stolen iPhones, the website has posted a new feature that takes an inside look at how the San Francisco Police Department handles its stolen iPhone sting operations.
The man in the hoodie is indeed a policeman: Officer Tom Lee is playing the role of decoy in a sting operation targeting buyers of stolen iPhones. Beneath his sweatshirt, he wears a small recording device taped to his chest. Lee approaches a heavy-set man standing outside the red awning of a Carl's Jr. burger restaurant. The man wears glasses and a black pinstripe suit. He inspects the iPhone and offers $100.
Lee takes the cash, hands over the phone and gives the signal. Four officers swoop in and place the man in handcuffs, notching another arrest in the intensifying cat-and-mouse game playing out here and in other major American cities between law enforcement and criminals looking to profit from the burgeoning trade in stolen mobile devices.
The sting operation was one of many set up to try to poison the iPhone black market in San Francisco with "fear and distrust" so that would-be buyers and sellers would be wary of engaging in any illegal transactions.
To facilitate the arrests, the SFPD solicited help from Apple. The company loaned a number of iPhones to the department, which plain clothes officers "sold" while undercover. Officer Lee himself is an Apple "expert," having been employed at an Apple retail store before joining the SFPD.
As noted by The Huffington Post, the program has a number of critics that question both its efficiency and its legality, equating it to little more than entrapment.
According to the San Francisco Police Department, nearly half of the robberies in the city have involved smartphones, which lines up with what a New York police officer said in 2011 when a similar sting operation led to 141 arrests.
The popularity of the iPhone and the iPad has also led to additional crimes such as counterfeiting, which Apple has fought in the past through lawsuits.