"Pickpocketing in America was once a proud criminal tradition, rich with drama, celebrated in the culture, singular enough that its practitioners developed a whole lexicon to describe its intricacies. Those days appear to be over. 'Pickpocketing is more or less dead in this country,' says Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, whose new book Triumph of the City, deals at length with urban crime trends. 'I think these skills have been tragically lost. You've got to respect the skill of some pickpocket relative to some thug coming up to you with a knife. A knife takes no skill whatsoever. But to lift someone's wallet without them knowing …'
"Marcus Felson, a criminologist at Texas State University who has spent decades studying low-level crime, calls pickpocketing a 'lost art.' Last year, a New York City subway detective told the Daily News that the only pickpockets left working the trains anymore were middle-aged or older, and even those are few and far between. 'You don't find young picks anymore,' the cop told the paper. 'It's going to die out.' A transit detective in the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which operates the Boston area's bus, commuter rail, and subway system, concurred via e-mail. 'Pickpockets are a dying breed,' he wrote. 'The only known pickpockets we encounter are older, middle-aged men; however, they are rarely seen on the system anymore.'
"This is not the case in Europe, where pickpocketing has been less of a priority for law enforcement and where professionals from countries like Bulgaria and Romania, each with storied traditions of pickpocketing, are able to travel more freely since their acceptance into the European Union in 2007, developing their organizations and plying their trade in tourist hot spots like Barcelona, Rome, and Prague. 'The good thieves in Europe are generally 22 to 35,' says Bob Arno, a criminologist and consultant who travels the world posing as a victim to stay atop the latest pickpocketing techniques and works with law enforcement agencies to help them battle the crime. 'In America they are dying off, or they had been apprehended so many times that it's easier for law enforcement to track them and catch them.'"