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N.J., N.Y. Port Authority LPRs credited with drop in car thefts

“These license plate readers are...high resolution, capable of taking a digital allow [LE] to ensure the right plate is on the right car,” said Rick Cotton, Port Authority director

By Larry Higgs

STATEN ISLAND — People who commit crimes and think they can get away undetected using Port Authority bridges and tunnels better think again.

On Monday, the bi state agency and law enforcement and elected officials commemorated the near completion of a $10 million program to install the latest generation of automatic license plate readers at its six bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and New York.

The Outerbridge Crossing and the Bayonne Bridge are the last two spans scheduled to have the readers installed, said Rick Cotton, Port Authority executive director.

Deployment of the readers, in conjunction with other efforts, is credited with a 40% drop in reported car thefts on Staten Island since a spike in 2022, officials said.

“These license plate readers are state of the art. They’re high resolution, capable of taking a digital image, not only of the license plate but of the car, that take images of the plate and the car, to allow law enforcement to ensure the right plate is on the right car,” he said. “It is a key tool for auto theft … identifying vehicles involved in criminal activity and from the Port Authority’s point of view critical for prosecuting drivers who repeatedly evading tolls.”

Both the Port Authority police, NYPD and MTA have been engaging in joint crackdowns on toll evaders. Last year, the Port Authority collected $25 million in back tolls and fees from toll evaders and issued 5,861 toll evasions-related summonses.

Readers at the Goethals Bridge, where the event was held, are already installed as they are at the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and the George Washington Bridge.

These readers, combined with NYPD efforts, were credited by Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon was credited with a 40% drop in reported car thefts from a 100% spike in grand larceny autos in 2022. It wasn’t just the car thefts, but thieves also brazenly breaking into homes to steal keys to get vehicles, he said.

“The fact that we didn’t have the LPR readers on the bridges came as a surprise to us,” McMahon said. “They were using the fact they could move almost anonymously across jurisdictional lines, that they could engage in this activity almost undetected.

Staten Island officials worked with the NYPD, the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice and the Port Authority, lobbying for the readers on the bi-state agency’s six river crossings between New York and New Jersey

New York State Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, D- Staten Island, said her family experienced it first-hand.

“My cousin’s car was broken into, and it was found in New Jersey, and that helped spark conversations about these license plate readers,” she said. “We know how important the interchange information is between the state and New Jersey.”

U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-11th Dist. also credits U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials who alerted her to the issue of transnational organizations that steal vehicles and ship them to Africa, the Dominican Republic and other places to sell, she said.

“The license plate readers are working, the arrests went up 40% and thefts went down 27%,” she said. “This is a very successful program.”

Citing growing threats, ranging from terrorism to the traditional crimes, two ways law enforcement can fight them is with technology and collaboration between agencies, said Greg Ehrie Port Authority chief security officer.

“License plate readers provide a level of mitigation and knowledge,” he said. “License plate readers are the DNA of the highway.”

Vehicles are stolen in New Jersey this year at a rate of about 36 a day, officials said.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the state continues to partner with its neighbors to use technology to fight crime.

“Today’s expansion of automated license plate readers emphasizes the importance of this critical tool in enhancing public safety in our region,” Platkin said in a statement. “Too often, criminals try to make our work more difficult by crossing jurisdictions and evading surveillance.”

“Whether we are identifying, locating, and recovering stolen vehicles, apprehending individuals involved in violent crimes, or tracking Amber and Silver alerts to find missing persons, we will continue to use every tool available, including all technological innovations and partnerships, to keep our residents safe,” he said.

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