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New York launches task force to crack down on ‘ghost cars’ evading law enforcement, toll payments”

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Edward A. Caban, New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber have announced the launch of a multi-agency city-state task force dedicated to identifying and removing so-called “ghost cars” — cars that are virtually untraceable by traffic cameras and toll readers because of their forged or altered license plates — from New York City streets.

Yesterday, in an overwhelmingly successful inter-agency operation involving the NYPD, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, MTA bridge and tunnel officers, the New York State Police (NYSP), the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department (PAPD), authorities impounded 73 cars, issued 282 summonses, and arrested eight individuals.

“Outlaws have been purchasing fake or paper license plates online to avoid tolls and tickets, as well as to evade accountability for serious crimes, but we’re pumping the brakes on the use of ‘ghost plates’ with the help of this multi-agency task force,” said Mayor Adams. “Working in tandem with our city and state law enforcement partners, we impounded 73 vehicles, issued 282 summonses, and made eight arrests, and sent an important message to everyone who drives on the streets of our city: No one is above the law. These cars might not have license plates, but we’ve got their number, and we’re going after anyone who tries to make their car untraceable.”

“By launching this city-state task force, we are sending a clear message: if you attempt to alter your license plate to avoid traffic cameras and toll readers, you will be caught,” said Governor Hochul. “The safety of New Yorkers is my top priority and in partnership with Mayor Adams and law enforcement, we will swiftly remove elusive vehicles from our roads. Now, I’m calling on the Legislature to join our efforts and work with us to pass additional protections for New Yorkers in the final budget.”

“This multi-agency taskforce has a clear and well-defined purpose: locate illegal and unregistered vehicles travelling in and around our city, get them off our streets, and hold the people driving them accountable,” said NYPD Commissioner Caban. “Over the years, our department has seen a clear connection between these illegal vehicles and violent crime. And we’re here today, with our valued law enforcement partners, to assure New Yorkers that this lawlessness will never be tolerated. This task force is a talented, diverse team, dedicated to keeping our roadways — and the neighborhoods they run through — safe. It is all part of our intelligence-driven approach to precision policing, and it is another example of how interagency cooperation makes our city better and makes us all safer.”

“We frequently conduct joint operations with our partner agencies and will continue to do so on the city and state level to remove these ‘ghost vehicles’ from our streets,” said New York City Sheriff Miranda. “These vehicles cause a serious threat to public safety, as they are typically unregistered and uninsured. Our joint operations help to combat the violent crimes associated with individuals using fraudulent plates.”

“Toll-dodging drivers cost the MTA an estimated $50 million every year — money that could be reinvested into modernizing the New York City transit system. That’s the public’s money they’re taking. And we can’t stand for it,” said MTA Chair and CEO Lieber. “So, if you have anything like that affixed to your plate, it would be smart to remove it. Because you could be stopped by a Bridge and Tunnel officer, or by any of our partner agencies. And we will collect on the money you owe us.”

“We will continue to work in conjunction with our law enforcement partners to step up efforts and stop these criminals who are using these ghost plates to obscure their identities and perpetuate other heinous crimes,” said NYSP Acting Superintendent Steven G. James. “We have no tolerance for individuals who try to circumvent the law, and they will be held accountable for their actions.”

“This multi-jurisdictional collaboration is a big step forward in the fight against a dangerous and pervasive problem, and the New York State DMV is proud to support this important work,” said DMV Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder. “So called ‘ghost plates’ put the safety of all New Yorkers at risk, so we will continue working with our partners to strengthen their enforcement efforts and hold individuals accountable.”

“If you try to evade the tolls at any of the region’s crossings, you will be caught and prosecuted,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. “The Port Authority is committed to working with our task force partners in taking aggressive action against any motorist using fake and obstructed license plates. We are using unique, innovative law enforcement methods now at our disposal to seek out those who don’t pay. Our collective toll dollars are critical to upkeep of the region’s critical crossings.”

“Today, we are going full throttle to rid our city of the pervasive ‘ghost cars.’ There have been almost 22,000 complaints of phony paper plates since their advent during the pandemic,” said New York State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar. “Drivers of these untraceable cars are using these plates to commit crimes, cover up stolen vehicles, evade their fair share of tolls, and violate traffic laws with impunity. Presumably none of them are carrying insurance, spelling disaster if they are in an accident. This multi-agency partnership between the city and state will accelerate enforcement to get these dangerous cars off our streets. I look forward to partnering with the mayor to give the city even more enforcement tools, including empowering law enforcement to use VINs to issue summonses when there is a phony plate. Together, we will be the exorcist that banishes the ghost cars haunting New York City.”

“The owners of these “ghost cars” are purposefully evading the law and are a threat to public safety in our city,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson. “Our residents want these drivers held accountable and interagency communication and enforcement to keep our streets and communities safe. I want to thank New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Edward A. Caban, New York City Sheriff Anthony Miranda, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chair and CEO Janno Lieber for their leadership on this issue and for sending a clear message that “ghost vehicles” will not be tolerated in our city.”

“Ghost cars are just another example of bad people doing bad things,” said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella. “We applaud Mayor Adams and all those involved for stepping up and recognizing the problem because it is often affiliated with other crimes.”

“Cars with fake, expired, or obscured license plates are not just a massive source of frustration for law-abiding Staten Islanders, but they pose major challenges to law enforcement and frankly, lawbreakers know it,” said Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon. “I welcome the joint effort being announced by Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams to crack down on this public safety problem, as we see too many ‘ghost cars’ used to commit crimes on an all-too-regular basis. In particular, I applaud the governor and the mayor for coordinating this effort with Port Authority Police, as my borough’s three New Jersey crossings are a common route chosen by those seeking to prey on our communities hard-earned expectations of safety.”

“Vehicles equipped with forged or altered license plates have long evaded detection by law enforcement and traffic cameras,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

“When drivers cannot be unidentified because of ghost plates, there is a particular danger to breaking the law without accountability, posing a serious threat to public safety. I commend Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul on the multi-agency initiative they have spearheaded to tackle this problem. Their efforts will strengthen our ongoing work to hold accountable those who undermine safety in our communities.”

“I commend Mayor Adams and the city-state task force for their swift action in addressing the issue of ‘ghost cars’ plaguing our streets,” said New York City Councilmember Kristy Marmorato.

“Ensuring the safety and security of our communities requires collaborative efforts across agencies, and I am confident that this task force will make significant strides in removing these dangerous vehicles from our roads.”

“Ghost vehicles pose a significant threat to public safety and must be taken off our streets,” said New York City Councilmember Lynn Schulman.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of legislation to intensify penalties and combat the proliferation of ‘ghost cars, which are often used to evade the law and accountability. Thank you to Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul for establishing an extensive interagency task force to eradicate dangerous ghost cars from our city streets. It is imperative that we mobilize every resource at our disposal to ensure our streets are kept safe for all New Yorkers.”

“Ghost cars have been a problem in this city for far too long, and I’m glad to see a coordinated effort like this to finally crack down on them,” said New York City Councilmember Joann Ariola.

“These cars are dangers to our citizens, and brazenly commit crime without fear of reprisal. Through the creation of this task force, we are taking an important and necessary step towards restoring the rule of law on the streets of New York, and for that I am thankful.”

The primary focus of the task force’s work is to remove vehicles with fraudulent or modified license plates — and those with no tags at all — from city streets, as these vehicles are often unregistered, uninsured, or stolen.

While the illegal practice of forging or altering license plates is not new, the crime proliferated during the pandemic, with drivers masking their identities by using counterfeit temporary paper plates to evade detection.

The fake “temp tags” appeared as though they were issued by out-of-state dealerships, making them difficult to verify. In some cases, vehicle operators in New York City used this cloak of anonymity to commit more serious violent crimes, including hit-and-runs, robberies, and shootings.

In her executive budget, Governor Hochul proposed legislation that would improve toll collections throughout the state by increasing fines and penalties for driving with altered plates, prohibiting the sale or distribution of covers that obscure license plates, allowing police to seize illegal plate covers, and restricting DMV registration transactions for vehicles with suspended registrations for failure to pay tolls or failing to remove plate-obscuring materials.

To combat this scourge during 2022 and 2023, the NYPD, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, and their law enforcement partners arrested nearly 11,200 drivers and impounded their vehicles, seized almost 12,900 additional vehicles, and issued motorists more than 21,200 moving violation summonses.

The NYPD’s Transportation Bureau established the inter-agency task force with the mission of conducting eight-hour enforcement operations approximately once a month. Times and locations around the city will be chosen after analyzing toll and motor vehicle data.

In its first outing yesterday, Monday, March 11, 2024, the task force performed traffic-safety actions at three river crossings that enter Manhattan: the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel.

Law enforcement utilized marked police vehicles, including various-sized tow trucks, automated license plate reader technology, and officer observations.

In addition to the outside agencies, NYPD units involved in the undertaking included the Highway Patrol, the Citywide Traffic Task Force, the Auto Crime Division, the Traffic Enforcement Division, the Aviation Unit, the Legal Bureau, Community Response Teams, and more.

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