As many as 200 undercover NYPD cars are on the streets without proper Department of Motor Vehicle registrations because of a bizarre battle with the city’s Finance Department over $1 million in unpaid tickets owed by cops, DNAinfo.com has learned.
Each of the NYPD scofflaw vehicles is carrying at least three unpaid tickets on its record within an 18-month period, sources said. And they also say the number of unregistered NYPD cars in use in violation of state laws is mounting every week as the two city agencies squabble over the tab.
The issue stems from unmarked cop cars that get slapped with summonses for parking illegally or are caught on tape running red lights in intersections under surveillance in the city’s Red Light Camera Program.
"The whole thing is insane," one law enforcement official said. "This is one city agency wanting to collect money from another city agency, but everyone is under the same financial umbrella.
"It's a debacle," the official said.
Debacle or not, the two sides could not be farther apart.
The situation actually dates back to a decision Mayor Michael Bloomberg made in 2008 to crack down on motorists who were abusing official parking placards in congested Manhattan and around courthouses and government buildings.
At the time, City Hall quickly realized an astonishing 150,000 placards had been issued to 68 government agencies and the Board of Education. The mayor ordered that number slashed by at least 20 percent. And he also demanded the city root out abusers who were parking at bus stops, fire hydrants and crosswalks which, of course, included the police, who were major offenders.
He also put the NYPD in charge of much of the cleanup program. The NYPD started with itself. A special Internal Affairs Unit was created to reduce the department’s placards from 49,876 (a number virtually the size of the entire force) to fewer than 35,000.
Then IAB went out looking for violators after warning New York’s Finest that officers would be personally responsible for any summonses that were not received in the line of duty or, in the case of red lights, while responding to an emergency.
They were also instructed that if they wanted to contest a ticket, they should immediately notify supervisors and provide necessary backup paperwork.
The problem for the NYPD — and, for that matter, all motorists — is the fact that there is only a 30 day window to notify the Department of Finance about a contested ticket, according to an agency spokesman.
And that apparently was not enough time for the vast NYPD bureaucracy.
The statute of limitations has run out on thousands of tickets. The penalties are locked in. Fines have accrued. The total reached higher than $1 million. The NYPD could better use the cash to pay the annual salaries of about 25 young officers.
My sources say the NYPD recently approached the Finance Department for additional time to get its paperwork in order to fight the summonses.
They were told that — like all car owners — there would be no extensions, according to the Finance Department spokesman.
"We are working to resolve this issue with the Police Department in a way that satisfies their legal obligation without obstructing law enforcement activity," the spokesman said.
By "obstructing law enforcement activity," he was referring to the very real prospect of legitimately parked unmarked cars being towed because they are scofflaws.
As for the NYPD, it did not have a comment.
There is a footnote to all this for the mayor. He should know that his crackdown is continuing on errant police parking.
Just a couple of days ago, the unmarked NYPD car that is used to drive Sen. Charles Schumer around New York was parked in a "No Standing Zone" a couple of blocks north of City Hall on Duane Street.
Schumer was out of town in Washington voting on the nation’s debt ceiling issue. But his bodyguard — an NYPD detective assigned to the Intelligence Division’s Municipal Protection Unit — was using the car on other official business.
He left an NYPD parking placard in the window. When he returned 10 minutes later, he found his car was gone, towed to the pound.
He notified Police Headquarters and, left with no recourse, he made his way over to the pound along Manhattan’s West Side. He reached into his pocket and paid $185 to get his NYPD unmarked car back.