Police Use Illegal License Plate Covers to Break Traffic Laws and Cheat Tolls

To gauge what police think about traffic laws and street safety, it’s instructive to observe how they abuse their authority with their personal vehicles.

On Twitter, @placardabuse does yeoman’s work posting images of personal cars with NYPD placards violating myriad laws, including blocking fire hydrants, blocking crosswalks, and parking on sidewalks. The placards don’t confer the right to break these rules, they just intimidate enforcement agents into giving the vehicle owner a pass.

Particularly brazen is the practice of obscuring license plates to evade toll readers and traffic enforcement cameras. The @placardabuse account has captured the illegal covers on numerous NYPD-placarded vehicles, some in the parking lot at 1 Police Plaza.

These plastic covers allow the license plate to be seen from a direct point of view but deflect light at an angle, preventing enforcement cameras from identifying the vehicle. They’re illegal in New York state because their purpose is to enable drivers to steal from and endanger the public with impunity.

Given such common corruption happening in the light of day and unchecked by department brass and City Hall, it’s no wonder cops disregard public safety in so many other ways as well, whether in their personal cars or their patrol cars.

  • notsurprised

    The Police Department read your article and determined that police action was not necessary.

  • Emmily_Litella

    The hits just keep on coming.

  • walks bikes drives

    No criminality suspected.

  • com63

    Could a citizen cyclist sue the NYPD for blocking bike lanes and get a judge to order NYPD out of these lanes?

  • Maggie

    Could Tish James speak up about this if no one else will? This is indefensible. It’s frightening how many people in power are turning a blind eye.

  • Vooch

    all aninmals Are Equal
    but some Are more equal than others

  • Another Vision Zero failure: thinking that we can allow the same old corruption and expect different results.

    Everyone has to do their part… except for the mayor and police.

  • Geck

    This is really disturbing. I have often wondered why drivers with these license plate obscuring covers are not ticketed. They are so easy to spot and their use suggest a reckless disregard for following the rules of the road. (Presumably these also block the plate readers the NYPD deploys for security/anti-terrorism purposes.) And sadly I’m not surprise that NYPD officers are in on it.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    At Joe5918 pointed out on Twitter, the United Cerebral Palsy Center is right next to the 70th precinct. The last two times I’ve gone by there have been cars blocking the sidewalk on both sides including right in front of the entrances. Don’t forget the sidewalk in front of an elementary school on Dekalb Avenue (has been mentioned on Streetsblog before) blocked by the 79th Precinct.

    Blocking sidewalks is corrupt and disrespectful in general, but sometimes its particularly callous.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b658f26e9c60e08844d64c4ede0f2a12435ecff961b1f4a79f539f64dc5cb7ad.png

  • Brad Aaron

    I really believe much of this problem can be attributed to allowing personal “combat parking” outside station houses regardless of where they are.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I recall reading once that the NYPD is mandated to provide officers with parking as part of the union contract. Is this true?

    Of course, I would argue that looking the other way while they park on the sidewalk is not “providing parking”, and that the NYPD should seriously look into fulfilling this responsibility properly, if in fact it exists.

  • AnoNYC

    Pretty sure those plate covers are useless. The cameras will still be able to read through them. Traffic enforcement cameras have substantially higher resolutions, better focus, and special software to determine the identification numbers.

  • AnoNYC

    Camera technology from over 10 years ago.

    http://images.dailytech.com/nimage/NYC_Speed_Cam_Ticket_Wide.jpg

  • The Truth

    I’d love to see the NYC Council or state impose a fine of 5x the standard fee for toll cheats who work for the government or NYC services, especially NYPD. Breaking the law knowingly and serving as an officer should be a harsher penalty. Immediate stripping of job.

  • Emmily_Litella

    You’ve been watching too much NCIS. A camera cannot magically see through light scattering lenses. If your eyes can’t see it, a camera can’t.

  • William Farrell

    Exactly, it’s a polarized screen. Camera’s can’t see what’s behind it since light is only able to pass through in one direction.

  • Vooch

    Solution would be to deduct taxes for the perk of free parking provided to city employees. This is actually federal law and could be quite effective in changing behaviour.

    For example, the value of parking in lower Manhattan is close to $10,000 annually. The city should be therefore withholding about $3,500 (35%) from employees who recieve this benefit as required by law.

    of course those who choose not to drive and park in city provided free spaces would not have the benefit treated as income and therefore would not need to pay the additional withholding

    simple & effective plus fully in compliance with Federal Tax law

  • JudenChino

    Shit, that’s a good point. A “perk” like that has value and as such should be treated as taxable income.

    Reminds of me when at my firm, my [partner/managing director/boss] gave me a “free dinner” to thank me for my hard work on a deal. Said, “don’t come back with a check that’s less than $500.” That free dinner was treated as taxable income so I ended up paying $200 (in taxes) for what was a $600 [free] dinner.

  • Brad Aaron

    Don’t know. Good question.

  • BrandonWC

    An ADA suit for blocking sidewalks would probably be more promising.

  • Well, there is infrared and UV light that we can’t see but cameras can. I don’t think the State of NY uses that kind of paint on the their plates, do they?

  • Andrew

    I’ve read many claims that it exists, but I doubt it does. Could be wrong.

    That still doesn’t justify parking illegally, stealing space from pedestrians and cyclists and bus riders. If the union believes that its members are being undercompensated per the contract, the union should sue the NYPD for damages on its members’ behalf. (That the union has not, to my knowledge, filed suit is in part why I doubt this is a real perk.)

    (It would be a stupid perk, in any case. Why compensate those who choose to drive to work but not those who opt for other modes?)

    If I work for a bank and believe that I’m being undercompensated, do I get to reach into the cash drawer and grab the money I think I’m owed? (Not a perfect analogy, since in that case I’d be taking from my employer rather than from the public.)

  • AnoNYC

    Look at the photo I posted. The cameras take a photograph from a distance. The plate covers are garbage.

  • AnoNYC

    I don’t watch NCIS…

    These plate covers have been tested on several websites and have failed.

    For example:

    http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/mythbusters-database/way-to-beat-police-speed-cameras/

    The only plate cover that will work is one that will obscure the plate from head on with your eyes. In other words, you will get pulled over if you have a plate cover that actually works because you wouldn’t be able to see the numbers from behind.

    And a high resolution camera with optical+digital zoom and software that detects the number pattern is substantially better than human eyes.

  • AnoNYC

    http://nycserv.nyc.gov/NYCServWeb/NYCServ_images/Speed_Camera_Violation.jpg

    Another image. These cameras capture automobiles from a distance. Hardly an angle.

  • ahwr

    I assume this is the relevant section. Not exactly a mandate.

    https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/olr/downloads/pdf/collectivebargaining/Police-Officers-08-01-2010-07-31-2012.pdf#page=19

    http://www1.nyc.gov/site/olr/labor/labor-recent-agreements.page

    It would be a stupid perk, in any case. Why compensate those who choose to drive to work but not those who opt for other modes?

    It’s my understanding that officers are prohibited from being assigned to their neighborhood, and don’t exactly get to choose where they end up working, or how long they stay in one area. Transit isn’t set up to handle many to many travel patterns well. Especially off hours. If there was a more general provision to provide some degree of assistance for officers to get to their assigned stations it would probably end up as a parking perk in much of the city anyway.

  • ahwr

    Not quite that much, the first $255 per month is exempt from taxation.

  • nyc-cynic

    There are two related issues here, one of whom we’ll probably never get resolved but the other should be fixable.
    Letting cops and firefighters and… teachers and MTA workers, etc, park illegaly courtesy of their privileged placards _next to their precincts, etc._ will probably remain forever and ever.
    But that being said, the nonsense that lets them use their placards to avoid tickets when parked in a bus stop outside Korvette’s for three hours is pure garbage and should have ended years ago.
    My repeated suggestion: Once/month the traffic folk should target _all_ plaaraded vehicles in a specific and staggered area.
    If the vehicle owner has a legit reason for parking there – i.e. (let’s bite our tongues) a teacher on the school block or a cop near the precinct, or, for that matter, a Visiting Nurse making a house call, then they send in the ticket with a note to the Dep’t of Finance and it’s vacated.
    If they’re in front of Studio 54, they have to pay up.
    Since they’re given (even for the semi legit/next to precinct) hundreds or thousands of dollars of benefits/month, the least they could do is spend five minutes on paperwork.

  • Andrew

    Not only is it not a mandate, it goes out of its way to state that it is in no way a mandate!

    I have no objection to police officers, or anybody else, choosing to drive to work. I only object to (a) their employer giving them a strong monetary incentive to drive to work and (b) illegal parking.

    The parts of the city where legal parking is hardest to find are generally the parts of the city with the most robust transit. Anybody who works in such an area who chooses to drive may have a challenge finding legal parking. That doesn’t give them the right to park on the sidewalk.

  • Placard Abuse

    Some of those plate covers are highly blurring, semi reflective, and tinted. Rain droplets can add additional distortion. It is simply impossible to see the full number at all from any angle with some of these covers, regardless of technology. We have spoken with people who process tolls, and it is a problem. Some covers work better than others, but at least most of them can result in a bad plate read at least some of the time.

  • van_vlissingen

    Imagine NYC adopted a SFPark type system and officers could pay with a credit card. On duty hours could be submitted/tracked/excepted/discounted if necessary but off duty hours would be officers to pay. It would be a much more efficient way to allow parking if officers chose to do so.
    I think it’s stupid to allow free parking. But it seems that something like this would eliminate placard abuse as it would eliminate placards and ensure there are some free palaces and this moves us closer to where we need to be as a city.

  • Joe R.

    You could have a motorized plate cover which you activate from the driver’s seat. You might use it when driving through areas you know have cameras but not the rest of the time. If people really want to cheat the system they’ll find ways. Plate covers strike me as an amateurish, half-hearted way to beat the system.

  • Joe R.

    Your employer should have given you fair warning the cost of the dinner would be reported as taxable income. In my mind free should really be free, as in you don’t pay a dime for it. I would honestly pass on a “free” dinner which was reported as taxable income unless I was in one of my bad years where my tax bracket was zero.

  • placard corruption

    License plate covers are illegal and are routinely used with criminal intent by officers who have sworn to uphold the law. How effective the covers may actually be is not really that important.

  • AMH

    For a long time, companies gave free parking to employees who drove while doing zip for anyone who biked or took transit. More recently, tax law (either federal or state, not sure) began requiring them to offer a cash benefit in lieu of parking or to provide transit benefits as well.

  • stairbob

    I have no problem with the police commandeering as many regular, on-street, parallel parking spots as they need (or think they need). Then they can do battle with the free-parking entitled neighborhood residents instead of endangering children and other humans on the sidewalks.

  • MyBrooklyn1

    These criminals in uniforms commit violations and crimes OFF DUTY everyday, only reason these revenue collectors don’t have a rap sheet is because they all “work” for criminal enterprise known as law enforcement.

    If corrupt NYC and NYS want to generate revenue they should target their own members like OFF DUTY COPS and other crook offcials…

    I am sick and tired of this shit when general public on daily bases gets harassed, abused and extorted over BS, meanwhile off duty criminals in uniforms and crooks in suits do whatever they please…..

  • MyBrooklyn1

    These criminals in uniforms commit violations and crimes OFF DUTY everyday, only reason these revenue collectors don’t have a rap sheet is because they all “work” for criminal enterprise known as law enforcement.

    I don’t care when these criminals in uniforms use official cars meaning labeled accordingly NYPD exterior commit traffic and moving violations.

    If corrupt NYC and NYS want to generate revenue they should target their own members like OFF DUTY COPS and other crook offcials…

    I am sick and tired of this shit when general public on daily bases gets harassed, abused and extorted over BS, meanwhile off duty criminals in uniforms and crooks in suits do whatever they please…..

  • AnoNYC

    Manipulable license plates exist but are uncommon. The plate covers are a scam in themselves.

  • AnoNYC

    The people who process tolls are not the people who control the camera enforcement. License plate covers are a huge scam and myth.

    The only time a license plate cover will work is if you cannot see it from head on. In that case, you will eventually get pulled for failure to display. Traffic enforcement cameras in NYC take at least two photos (some use multiple camera angles and most video in addition) and are set back quite a bit from the intersection.There is barely any angle, especially with the second. The reflections that appear on the photographed plates above could not happen at the angles the cameras are located.

    These cameras cost thousands of dollars and are extremely sophisticated. They have been refined over a period of decades, and these plate covers are not a recent innovation. A $50 plate cover is not going to outsmart the developers of these types of law enforcement systems.

  • Frank Kotter

    Cops can park where ever they want in the city for free and are prohibited by law from living in the precinct they patrol. So you get a police force who drives to work, thereby making them very, very different from the constituency they serve and the worst possible subgroup to have an interest in pedestrian safety.

    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/interactive-map-shows-where-nypd-officers-live-9249670

    Completely blocking the sidewalk outside outside a cerebral palsy clinic…… C’mon guys! Think about that for just one second.

  • placard corruption

    You’re clearly not paying attention.

    “The people who process tolls are not the people who control the camera enforcement.” They process toll violations with the toll system enforcement cameras. When they have a problem, a public agency loses money and a cheat wins.

    “The only time a license plate cover will work is if you cannot see it from head on” – that is true in very many of these cases.

    “In that case, you will eventually get pulled for failure to display.” Ha. Ha. HaHaHaHa! They tin their way out of the stop even easier than their placard gets them out of the tickets from the TEAs.

  • William Farrell

    I hope you are correct.

  • Andrew

    Let the NYPD know that you care about these violations by reporting them to the IAB. Call (212) 741-8401 (they’re open 24/7), or email IAB@NYPD.org.

    The process is slow, but I have been successful at getting officers disciplined for motor vehicle violations, even when they are personal (rather than department) vehicles.

  • Ty umresh’ pervym mraz’

  • neroden

    Criminal behavior by a cop — once proven — should result in immediate permanent firing and blacklisting from all future police jobs. Furthermore, if the union attempts to prevent this (after the case has been proved), the union should be banned as a criminal enterprise and its leaders thrown in prison.

  • neroden

    Police cars parked on the sidewalk should be towed to a scrapyard and crushed. I don’t think it’s currently legal for private citizens to do this, but at this point, with no operational police department in New York City, it should be.

  • neroden

    Private criminal prosecution still exists under NYS law. But it would probably be easier to file a civil suit. The tricky bit is identifying the *individuals* (crooked cops) who are doing this. They are clearly not operating in their official capacity when they break the law by parking on the sidewalk, so they need to be sued *as individuals* (don’t just sue the city, bankrupt them personally).

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