NYC police target fake license plates, many linked to drive-by shootings and other crimes, officials say

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Authorities in New York City vowed Wednesday to crack down on counterfeit paper license plates, which have been tied to drive-by shootings, toll evasions, crashes and other issues throughout the city.

Under a police initiative, NYPD patrol officers are being trialed to identify fraudulent plates. Rodney Harrison, the NYPD Chief of Department, said investigators have had trouble making arrests and tracking down vehicles involved in shootings because of the fake plates. 

“This criminal phenomenon is a byproduct of COVID-19 when the Department of Motor Vehicles was shut down and provided limited services and criminals taking advantage and producing fake fraudulent paper plates in return for finances,” he said at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily press conference.

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He said vehicles with such plates have been linked to hit-and-runs, speeding through school zones and various quality-of-life concerns. There have been 562 crashes involving vehicles with fake plates where 293 injuries occurred, Harrison said. 

Many drivers use forged plates in an effort to avoid insurance payments and other fees or to commit crimes, officials said. As of Wednesday, counterfeit plates have been used in 33 shootings across the city, officials said. 

“We have seen a clear connection at times to violence,” Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said. “We’ve seen the same fraudulent plate on numerous vehicles. Just this week we had a shooting in southeast Queens where the individuals were in a car with a fraudulent plate.”

“More often than not what we have is gang members getting in a car and driving from one area to the rivals area,” he added. “It is most definitely not uncommon to take it a step further that gang members that are willing to drive around and shoot at someone and endanger innocent people are not that worried about following New York State registration laws.”

Harrison cited seven drive-by shootings in Brooklyn involving three vehicles with bogus plates. Cars with fake plates will be confiscated and eventually sold at auction if the owner doesn’t present the proper paperwork, Harrison said. 

Many of the plates are sold online for as low as $70 and up to $200, he said. 

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The initiative comes as the city grapples with multiple shootings daily as well as other crimes involving weapons.  

As of Monday, 634 shootings were reported in the city, compared to 386 in the same time period last year. There were 721 shooting victims in that time frame in 2021, a 61% jump from 2020, according to police data. 

Murders spiked 13% with 194 slayings this year compared to 171 last year. 

The benchmark for success in combating murders will be zero killings, Shea said. 

“Some may look at that and say that’s unrealistic, but I assure you that in this agency from every cop on the street to civilian members to myself and everyone in between day and night, all through the day, thinks about how to keep people safe,” he said.

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