NEW YORK CITY — As if drivers of storm-battered cars didn’t already have a tough break, they now face a new threat: tow truck drivers.
With the city still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, some enterprising tow truck operators have taken the opportunity to steal storm-damaged cars right off the street and then charge owners exorbitant fees when they attempt to retrieve their vehicles, cops said.
The issue is so serious that the NYPD has formed a special task force to investigate tow truck drivers who steal cars or defraud drivers following the storm, Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said in a statement Wednesday.
Overall, crime dropped or remained flat following the storm, Browne said.
But police have made 226 arrests for storm-related crimes, primarily burglary, which is up 2 percent compared to this time last year, he added.
Sandy ravaged cars in low-lying areas throughout the city. Two weeks later, many soggy cars are still sitting on the side of the road or up at an angle on the sidewalk. Some have shattered windows.
Cops will soon begin ticketing these cars, and tow truck operators are now prowling these areas and stealing cars outright, police said.
The task force is also investigating reports that some operators have towed cars to private auto pounds where they charge drivers up to $2,300 to retrieve their vehicles, police said.
In the same statement released Wednesday, Browne said the police force itself wasn’t spared by the storm.
Eighty-one officers were injured in the line of duty while responding to the storm, and 1 off-duty officer was killed, Browne said.
Roughly 1,300 NYPD members sustained “catastrophic damage” to their homes, he added.