Crews of migrants have been using children as decoys to pickpocket unsuspecting tourists in Times Square, The Post has learned.
The area — from Sixth to Eighth Avenues between West 42nd and West 49th Streets — has seen the number of pickpocket complaints skyrocket 222% — to 187 so far this year from 58 in the same span in 2022, NYPD data show.
“You can’t have this,” NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said. “People are going to go back to wherever they came from and say, ‘I spent half my trip canceling my credit cards.’”
When they are arrested, the pickpockets tell cops they are from Central and South America, police said.
It’s not clear if they are among 110,000 or so asylum seekers who have arrived in the city over the past year because cops are barred from seeking immigration status.
Police Officer Joe Soldano, a Pickpocket Squad leader, said some of the thieves use children, even infants, to distract the tourists while they ply their trade.
The squad recently collared a mother who was pickpocketing while pushing her baby in a stroller, he said.
“We had the baby back at the precinct and had to go the whole [child services] route,” Soldano said.
Often a pickpocketing parent steers a child to a tourist and has the child “go in front of them, stop short or go to the side of them, bump them by accident,” he said. “And the father goes into the pocket.”
In one recent case, Soldano collared a father who boosted a tourist’s wallet.
“I grabbed him with the wallet in his hand . . . I apprehended him and the kid took off,” he said.
Often the pickpockets use static props like bags and other items to hide their sleight of hand.
Others are “just brazen,” Soldano said. “We’ve seen some guys [with] no prop on them at all just go into someone’s pocket. We watched one guy do three separate incidents. We were following him the whole time. He’s just diving into people’s bags.”
Times Square is so frenetic that victims don’t always realize they’ve been ripped off, he said.
“It’s a lot of tourism and people don’t feel it,” he said.
But the biggest challenge for the teams right now, though, is the victims themselves.
“They don’t believe we’re cops,” he said of the plainclothes team. “So like, it’s very tough when they’re like running away from you.” He said police have been trying to make sure they have uniformed cops on hand.
Chell said the level of pickpocketing in Times Square led to the creation of the 13-member squad in April.
“In the beginning of the year, we saw just a tremendous influx of pickpockets just around Times Square,” Chell said. “It’s still out of control, but it’s getting better.”