NYPD and The NYC Sheriff's Office Crack Down On "Ghost Cars": If you use a fake plate, we will tow, auction your car

July 5, 2022

– Mayor Eric Adams, the New York City Sheriff’s Office, and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) today put drivers on notice that the NYPD and Sheriff’s Office will tow – and could potentially auction off – vehicles caught with illegal, fake, paper license plates.

As of July 3, 2022, the NYPD has issued 16,448 tickets to drivers for using illegal or obstructed license plates, towed 1,700 vehicles, and seized 2,478 vehicles. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office has seized over 800 vehicles since July 2021, most of which had fictitious license plates from various states. Arrests involving vehicles that displayed temporary paper plates rose to 3,568 in 2021, a 300% increase compared to 893 arrests effected in 2016 involving those vehicles.

“We are towing ghost cars because we know the drivers of these cars are up to no good,” said Mayor Adams. “The law is coming after anyone who tries to make their car untraceable. We will not allow vehicles to be weaponized and our streets to be turned into a battlefield.”

“An illegal license plate is not a harmless act,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks. “It is a clear indication that a person is not willing to operate within the most basic legal framework of society. Ghost cars and the reckless behavior of their owners are a threat to every New Yorker on the road. I applaud the mayor’s efforts to address this issue head on.”

“The issue of ensuring that legitimate, legible, license plates remain a viable tool in our collective efforts to ensure safe streets demands our immediate attention, at every level,” said Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “The urgency of this issue is reflected in the NYPD’s ongoing efforts. We will defeat this public-safety threat. We will eradicate fake and obscured license plates that create what are essentially a class of untraceable, ghost-cars moving among us. And we need all our law enforcement and government partners pulling with us in this same direction.”

"Under the leadership of Mayor Adams, we have created a robust ghost car enforcement initiative that addresses a host of public safety concerns, said Sheriff Anthony Miranda. “Collaborating with our partners in law enforcement, we seized over 800 vehicles most of which had fictitious license plates from various state jurisdictions. While inventorying these seized vehicles we have discovered 5 firearms, narcotics, fake identification, and dozens of fake license plates inside of these vehicles."

On June 25, 2022, a stolen Honda with an incorrect, expired South Carolina license plate evaded a car stop in Brooklyn and struck several people, fatally injuring a 67-year-old grandmother and critically injuring an 8-year-old boy.

Like untraceable firearms known as “ghost guns” that are wreaking a horrific tally of shooting victims, “ghost cars” - vehicles bearing illegal and counterfeit license plates - are fueling an epidemic of virtually untraceable cars that harm and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and our most vulnerable – including the elderly, children, and other at-risk groups. The state’s vehicle and traffic law - as well as the New York City Traffic Rules - are clear: License plates must be easily identifiable. Covering a car’s license plate with any material or substance that coats, obscures, or distorts it is illegal In New York City. It is also illegal to sell such coverings within city limits.

Vehicles with fraudulent or obstructed licenses plates towed by the NYPD and the Sheriff’s Office are often not redeemed and sent to auction. Approximately 25% of the 5,500 vehicles with paper plates found to be in violation and towed by the NYPD’s Traffic Enforcement District last year were abandoned by their owners. Through June 2022, 562 of the 1,646 towed vehicles with paper plates were similarly not redeemed. The Bronx, in both years, led the city in the number of such vehicles towed. In addition, approximately, 60% of the paper plates vehicles seized by the Sheriff’s Office are auctioned off as a result of those cars being abandoned.

Additionally, through June, police officers and traffic enforcement agents have issued a combined 13,250 parking summonses to vehicles with covered license plates, a 33% increase compared with the 9,956 summonses issued in the same period last year.

The NYPD is focusing on the work of patrol officers in all 77 precincts, across all neighborhoods, to crack down on obscured and illegal plates. Additionally, weekly Traffic Safety Forum meetings are attended by several government agencies working with the NYPD to share information on best practices and holistic approaches to traffic safety. The Sheriff’s Office has also conducted operations in 18 different precincts throughout the city since July, 2021.

Helping to spearhead the crackdown on ghost cars is the 2022 Vehicle License Plates Working Group, an intelligence-driven effort that pulls in the coordinated work of the NYPD’s patrol services, legal, and transportation bureaus along with the detective bureau’s Auto Crime Unit for investigations and incorporates the expertise of several city and state agencies – including the Sheriff’s Office. The working group is focused on the goal of creating safe, navigable roadways for all New Yorkers by tackling the increasing problem of illegal and obscured registration plates. These illegal plates and items that obstruct the reading of plates on vehicles pose innumerable dangers travelling on the city’s highways and roads.

The NYPD has chaired several 2022 License Plates Working Group interagency meetings on the proliferation of illegal and obscured license plates. Its partners participating in those continuing discussions include law enforcement colleagues from several agencies as well as representatives from a wide array of regional government entities and authorities.

Obstructed and temporary paper plates, whether legal or illegal, defraud the city’s speed and red-light cameras – resulting in upticks in dangerous traffic violations. Temporary paper license plates can easily be found for sale and purchased online. A statewide database the Sheriff’s Office and NYPD officers rely on to help keep the city’s roads safe includes temporary paper plate information from just 11 of 50 states – making it difficult for officers on patrol effecting investigatory car stops to obtain routine registration data.

Problematic license plates are often a nexus to criminality. Vehicles outfitted with such plates are often used in violence and major crime. While inventorying seized vehicles, the Sheriff’s Office has discovered 5 firearms, narcotics, fake identification cards, and dozens of fake license plates inside of these vehicles.

The working group approach also involves NYPD towing operations. It is illegal to drive vehicles with fraudulent or obstructed license plates in New York City. It is also illegal to park such vehicles on the city’s streets. The NYPD strategy is to focus with precision on where such vehicles are parked – often overnight – so they can be safely towed.

“Over the course of the pandemic, DOT has seen an alarming increase in the number of fake and temporary license plates on vehicles, which evade our automated enforcement and worse, have been involved in a growing number of high-speed fatal crashes,” said DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “Now, under Mayor Adams’ leadership, we will have both 24/7 speed-camera coverage starting August 1 — as well as this serious crackdown on fake plates. We are grateful to our partners at the Sheriff and NYPD for their comprehensive plan to safely and efficiently remove these cars, which will immediately make our streets safer.”

“We are committed to taking these vehicles out of circulation. If your vehicle is parked with a fraudulent or obstructed plate, it will be ticketed, towed, and removed to an NYPD tow pound,” said NYPD Chief of Transportation Kim Y. Royster. “The safety of all New Yorkers is our top priority and traffic safety is public safety.”

Removing vehicles with illegal, fake, paper license plates off of the road is the first step to ensuring safer New York City and Tri-state area roadways,” said New York City Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair. “Paper license plates have become ubiquitous due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these seemingly untraceable vehicles have become associated with illegal activities, fatal car accidents, and other vehicular incidents escalating the need to end their issuance. I applaud Mayor Adams, Police Commissioner Sewell, and DOT Commissioner Rodriguez for their foresight to assemble the 2022 Vehicle License Plates Working Group and expedite the removal and potential auctioning of these vehicles to help thwart illegal activity in New York City.”