Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD brass vowed to crack down on drivers using fake or expired paper license plates Tuesday.
A little over a year after his predecessor Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a similar push against the phony documents, Adams said the renewed effort will be better now that he’s behind the wheel of city government.
“I think the sole thing that’s different from those who talked about it before and those who are talking about it now is Eric Adams, I’m the mayor now,” Adams told reporters at a tow pound in Queens.
Hizzoner added that the effort will also be more coordinated via a task force with other agencies like the MTA and the Port Authority, which each toll cars crossing their bridges and tunnels, as well as the New York City Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Transportation, New York State Police, and district attorneys.
The bogus plates are often registered out-of-state and are easy to print at home, but are illegal and make it harder for cops to keep track of drivers committing crimes, according to NYPD’s Chief of Transportation Kim Royster.
“We’ve seen the same plates on different vehicles flee scenes of separate crimes in New York City,” Royster said.
The NYPD and the city Sheriff’s Office rely on a statewide database that only has information on temporary plates from 11 of the 50 states, so it can be difficult for cops to get routine registration information during stops and investigations if the driver doesn’t have a metal plate.
“When you add to the myriad ways drivers intentionally obscure their real metal license plates, and the attempt to evade tolls, and to defeat red lights or speed cameras, you really can’t blame law-abiding New Yorkers for thinking that in 2022 anything goes on our highways and our roadways,” Royster said.
Unlike the plates, this crackdown won’t just be temporary though, the chief promised.
“I want it to be clear, this is not a summer Initiative, or a July crackdown. This is an active, ongoing part of the daily and nightly work of every NYPD police officer and investigator,” Royster said. “This is a warning to all, this ends today.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could lose an estimated $50 million to toll evaders on its bridges and tunnels this year.
That could become an even bigger issue once the MTA launches its congestion pricing program to charge drivers heading into Manhattan south of 60th Street by the end of 2023.
Mayor Adams and NYPD leaders labelled the hard-to-trace vehicles “ghost cars,” likening them to so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms that can be assembled at home from parts ordered online without having to go through background checks.
The issue became more widespread during the COVID-19 crisis, officials claimed, because Departments of Motor Vehicles in states around the country closed their doors and became more lenient on extending temporary paper plates.
“This is not a new phenomenon. It’s a continuing pattern that exploded during the pandemic when DMVs were closed across the nation and the printed expiration dates on temporary places were extended and then extended again,” Royster said.
Arrests for counterfeit plates rose in the last year of the de Blasio administration to 3,568 in 2021, compared to 893 in 2016, according to NYPD.
Through June of this year, police have handed out 13,250 parking tickets for drivers of cars with covered plates, up 33% from the 9,956 summonses issued during the same time last year.
Driving with a fake paper plate is a misdemeanor that can carry fines ranging from $65-$200 and lead to an arrest. If the car is parked, the fine is $65 and the police can tow the vehicle.
A large chunk of vehicles with paper plates that law enforcement seizes are never picked up, including fancy sports cars, leading officials to believe that the vehicles were not completely above board in the first place.
“You have a Maserati? Why the hell aren’t you coming back for it,” asked Adams. “You have to ask yourself why — we know why. Because they were either used in a crime, illegally possessed, or some form of illegal action created their possession of these cars.”
A quarter of the 5,500 vehicles with paper plates towed by NYPD last year were abandoned by their owners, and some 60% of those vehicles seized by the Sheriff’s Office are auctioned off because they’re abandoned.
Like de Blasio, Adams said that upping enforcement against the fraudulent documents would help NYPD combat more serious crime.
“We have ignored what one would consider to be quality of life issues,” he said. “We have not connected to dots historically.”
The overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities were not linked to the paper plates, however, according to NYPD stats.
Of the 272 traffic deaths in the city last year, 16 involved cars with temporary plates, only nine of which were illegal, or about 3% of the crash fatalities.