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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Ghost Car of the Upper West Side — A Case Study in Not Getting Stuff Done

This Jeep with the fake Florida plate has been hiding in plain sight near the 20th Precinct station house, but officers have done nothing, despite several 311 complaints.

About that "ghost car" crackdown...

Three months after Mayor Adams announced a crackdown on cars with illegal or fake plates, a gray Jeep has been sitting in various locations on the Upper West Side — and cops have repeatedly declined to pursue multiple 311 complaints about the criminal presence on the streets.

This placard does not confer the right to illegally park or to drive an unregistered car. Photo: Jehiah Czebotar
This placard does not confer the right to illegally park or to drive an unregistered car. Photo: Jehiah Czebotar
This placard does not confer the right to illegally park or to drive an unregistered car. Photo: Jehiah Czebotar

Streetsblog contributor Jehiah Czebotar first spotted the car — whose fake Florida license plate is so egregious that it "expired" a year ago and lists the car as "BLK" rather than the steel-hued paint it actually wears — on Aug. 14 on West 83rd Street, and reported it to 311 (and, of course, Twitter). The car had a placard on the dashboard from the Postal Service union — a postal facility is nearby — but there is nothing that allows a placard possessor to park in a no standing zone.

Within minutes, Czebotar's service request was closed, with the NYPD saying, "The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary."

A week later, Czebotar spotted the car again — and filed another 311 service request, which was closed in 33 minutes with the same comment from the NYPD. (In fairness, cops may have declined to act in this case because the car had already been ticketed for a "No standing" violation, according to city records, though no ticket was written for the fake plate.)

And this Sunday, Czebotar repeated the process — a 311 complaint and a tweet. Once again, the NYPD rapidly closed the case — again with "action was not necessary" — but this time, Czebotar remained on the scene and told Streetsblog that cops never "responded," despite what officers posted to 311. (As Streetsblog reported, NYPD responses to 311 complaints about traffic safety issues is poor.)

Czebotar also twice emailed the 20th Precinct commander, Neil Zuber, but got no response, he said. He remains frustrated.

"Drivers that put a fake or temporary license plate on their vehicle do so with clear intent to defraud," Czebotar told Streetsblog. "This recurring issue is a great litmus test for how NYPD is responding to reports, and so far it shows they are not up to the task. NYPD could patrol our streets to identify and resolve these issues, but they will not even respond when it's pointed out."

Czebotar is not the only resident waiting for action on so-called "ghost cars." Since Mayor Adams's announced crackdown, not much has been done, according to the new website, paperplates.nyc, which was created to track NYPD response to 311 calls regarding un-plated cars.

According to the tracker, which compiles city data, 2,875 complaints have been filed against cars with paper or fake plates, and cops have issued just 307 summonses. A much higher number of complaints — 534 — were listed as "action not necessary."

The data also show that eight cars have been reported in the 20th Precinct since the mayoral crackdown was announced yet none has been ticketed. The 20th Precinct is one of 13 precincts that have not issued a summons, despite a collective 138 service requests to 311.

Is this a big deal? Mayor Adams certainly thought so back in July when he announced the crackdown.

“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,” Hizzoner told reporters at the launch, which was held at a Queens tow pound. “You’re going to see us aggressively address this problem.”

NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster was equally demonstrative in her rhetoric.

“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. This is a warning to all, this ends today.”

It has not ended. In fact, there is mounting evidence that "ghost cars" continue to contribute to road violence and quality-of-life crimes, despite several overnight operations in select precincts. Two pedestrians who were killed on an Inwood sidewalk a month after the alleged beginning of the crackdown were killed by a speeding driver whose car apparently had illegal plates.

And many outlets have covered the ramifications of the proliferation of fake plates. The City reported that there was a dramatic increase in the failure of city speed cameras to read plates at the start of the pandemic, resulting in thousands of tickets not being issued. Hell Gate reported that the same thing is happening to thwart the city's noise camera pilot program.

And, of course, NYPD officers have discretion, which they frequently exercise to clear drivers with obscured plates — and reports show that NYPD officers often obscure their plates.

The city has said it will crack down on online stores that sell fake plates, but sellers continue to pop up, as Streetsblog reported.

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