NYPD Makes National News for Cheating Tolls and Breaking Traffic Laws

Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero confronts an NYPD officer about his illegal license plate cover. Image: Inside Edition
Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero confronts an NYPD officer about his illegal license plate cover. Image: Inside Edition

Last week Inside Edition went national with the story of police who use illegal license plate covers on their vehicles.

The covers are against the law because they’re intended to help motorists evade toll readers and traffic enforcement cameras. As you can see in the story, Inside Edition reporter Lisa Guerrero found scores of vehicles in Lower Manhattan (and downtown Philadelphia) that had some type of cover installed to obscure the plate number.

All the vehicles that Inside Edition spotted with the license plate covers also bore law enforcement placards, according to producer Joe Enoch, who spoke with Streetsblog about the story. Below is the interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

What put you on the story?

We did a story a year ago in Florida where we did a ride-along with the Florida Highway Patrol, in which they went after toll cheaters using a variety of methods. One truck driver smeared grease on his plate. Another truck driver literally had levers in his cab to pull the plates up when he went through the tolls.

At the end of the day, we were wrapping up, and one of the officers saw someone drive by with one of these plastic plate covers. They pulled the woman over and it ends up she’s a corrections officer.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that these things existed. After that story — I ride my bike to work every day — I started seeing them on cars, both parked and driven. And every single time I took a closer look, they were always police cars.

When you looked here in the city, where did you look, and about how many did you spot that had these covers on them?

I’m very comfortable saying we found more than 100 vehicles in New York City. All in Manhattan, all around maybe five precincts. And then of course all around Police Plaza. Basically, from the mayor’s office, all the way down to the bottom of Manhattan.

Again, the best estimate you can give: How many of the cars were parked illegally?

The majority of them.

What percentage of cars with placards had obscured plates?

Truth be told it was a small fraction. That being said, more than a hundred is certainly indicative of what I think a lot of people would believe is a serious problem. And again, we focused our efforts, merely out of convenience, at the precincts close to our office, and then around 1 Police Plaza.

That’s a hive of parking malfeasance, so it’s a good place to look.

Yes.

Are there a lot of people who aren’t police using these covers and getting by with it?

That’s not my experience. I did not see one vehicle that had an illegally obscured plate that was not a police officer.

The one guy in the story takes the cover off his plate after the reporter [Guerrero] shamed him into it. Did anyone else try to explain themselves?

On that story you see every single one of our interactions. We got the same response every time with the exception of that one member of the NYPD. Either a “No comment” or nothing at all.

This problem is not a secret to NYPD, as higher-ups have spoken about it in the past, but obviously they haven’t stopped it. How did you approach the department, and what was the response?

We shared our findings with the department on Friday, and they got back to us with a statement saying they have responded with some spot checks. I believe the New York Post got even more information, in that some of the officers received tickets.

Did they leave it there, just that they were doing spot checks?

That was as much information as we got out of them, that they were conducting spot checks. It’s unclear whether the spot checks will continue.

The @placardabuse Twitter feed is pretty relentless about exposing this stuff, so we’ll probably know whether or not NYPD is addressing this to a greater extent. Any chance of a follow-up story?

We’re a national news program. If we can show that it’s a problem in more than one place, that helps bolster [the case for] a story.

I’ll be honest, we have received comment from some of our viewers saying they’ve noticed it in their towns.

  • AnoNYC

    Hilarious.

  • adrian

    I know it’s cliché and par for the course and all that, but I just don’t understand why police think the law should not apply to them. Something is very wrong with police culture, recruitment, leadership, something. The people who we grant the legal right and duty to carry guns and protect us should be the most mature and responsible people we can find, and yet we have these bums in the video. I’m sick of the bad apples argument: many of these issues are clearly endemic and systemic. Is lousy pay the only issue or is it something more?

  • Guest

    It’s what happens when you leave the bad apples in the barrel.

    The main problem, though, seems to be a broken set of values among law enforcement officers in many parts of the country: they see their primary loyalty to their “brothers” instead of the laws they swore to uphold.

  • AlexWithAK

    Which explains why the ranking officers are unwilling to do anything more than these “spot checks”. They’re part of the culture and part of the problem. It would be very easy to check every vehicle that passes through the One Police Plaza security checkpoint. But they don’t do that because they want to uphold the status quo as much as possible.

    Meanwhile, the Battery Tunnel is now completely toll boothless, relying only on EZ-Pass and plate photos. Any officer using that facility on a daily basis without an EZ-Pass tag and with a plate cover is guilty of literally thousands of dollars of theft every year. If we can’t get our police department to take action on that, we are in deep trouble.

  • vnm

    Basically every time I see cars with deeply tinted front windows and license plate covers (I’ve been noticing this more and more) I think the person driving the car is an off-duty cop. Why? Because they know if they get stopped for having it, they just show their badge and go on their way with no further difficulties. What cop is going to write a ticket against another cop when there’s a “we’re in this together” attitude that automatically prevails?

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    In the words of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan: “to live outside the law you must be honest”.

  • placard corruption

    Thank you for covering this important issue, Streetsblog.

  • placard corruption

    The Henry Hudson Bridge was the pilot for the MTA’s cashless tolling, and we noticed large numbers of illegal license plate covers proliferating in The Bronx earlier than elsewhere in NYC…

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