Vehicle injury lawyer Steve Vaccaro is advocating for the NYPD to use traffic data they collect on their motor vehicle database to catch hit-and-run suspects.
Vaccaro, who represents vehicle crash victims, says the NYPD and its license plate reader (LPR) technology scans and collects data on millions of motor vehicles each day that can be used to track down hit-and-run perpetrators.
Vaccaro believes that NYPD’s license plate database could bring more hit-and-run drivers to justice.
“They don’t use it for routine hit-and-runs,” Vaccaro said of the data collected by NYPD’s license plate readers and by ticket-writing cops.
“They only use it for anti-terrorism purposes, for what they consider real criminal investigations — which never are hit-and-run collisions, except in the case of fatal or near-fatal collisions,” Vaccaro said.
The vehicle database in question was developed over a decade ago by the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative – part of NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau – as part of an anti-terrorism surveillance program.
According to Vaccaro, a police officer he deposed in 2016 asserted that the NYPD collects approximately 3.6 million license plate numbers and their locations every day via scanning devices that are either fixed in certain locations or are mounted on police vehicles.
“Anywhere NYPD is picking up digital license plates in the city, it goes in one place,” Vaccaro said of the database.
“We have 292 fixed plate readers throughout the city, as well as 247 mobile plate readers,” NYPD Sgt. Specialist Ronald Myers Myers told Vaccaro during a deposition.
“Now, that mobile plate reader can be affixed on an unmarked vehicle as well as a marked patrol car, and they basically travel throughout the city reading every plate in sight,” Myers added.
Despite the existence of the data, only 1 in 20 hit-and-run drivers in nonfatal collisions were arrested in 2020. Vaccaro, a safe-streets advocate, believes the NYPD can do more with the data.
The NY Daily News got in touch with an NYPD spokesman who said that the system is already being utilized for such crimes.
“The assertion that LPRs [license plate readers] are only used for fatal or near fatal collisions is false. It’s an investigative tool that may be and is used during the course of investigations into any and all crime classifications, when appropriate,” Sgt. Edward Riley, an NYPD spokesman said.
Civil liberties advocate Albert Fox Cahn raised concern about the invasiveness of the license plate database, saying it could lead to “an Orwellian scenario where any officer can track any vehicle at any time.”
“When we continue to expand systems like automated license plate readers, we’re creating an inescapable tracking net that can follow any nearly car at any time in any block of the city,” Cahn said. “To me it’s terrifying how a department like the NYPD can weaponize that data to target New Yorkers of color, particularly our Black community.”
Vaccaro dismissed the privacy concerns.
“If in fact, they’re collecting the information, why not use it?” he asked. “I share concerns about cameras everywhere. But if the cameras are up, I want the footage if it’s relevant to my work.”