Gawker reveals NYPD's "spy taxi"


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This isn’t a secret. And “indiscriminate and probably illegal spying program”? Really?

NYPD has used fake taxis as undercover vehicles for years. It makes sense, because a yellow cab is the most inconspicuous vehicle you can drive in many neighborhoods. I think many precincts have at least one or two (I know I often see one parked outside of my local precinct house).

Here’s a blog post from 2010 with tips on spotting them, although I think the advice about the medallion/license plate mismatch is outdated. The one I see outside our precinct has a matching license plate, as does the one in the Gawker photo.


Here’s another blog post from 2008 in which many of the commenters say they’ve been around at least since the Giuliani years.


Oh, the irony of forgetting and leaving your laptop or cellphone behind…

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As others have said: What’s really different between this and any other “unmarked car”? Nothing wrong with it.

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Cabs also generally have a radio for talking to dispatch too, right? Or have they switched to push-to-talk cell phones now? If I see a regular vehicle with an extra antenna sticking out of it, I think cop car. If I see a cab with I’ll just think that’s for talking to dispatch.


and is routinely parked outside of New York mosques in an effort to keep tabs on New York’s Muslims

I think you’ve missed the point here.


At least they didn’t use a bread truck.

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NYC yellow taxis don’t have a radio for talking to dispatch because they aren’t dispatched. They are strictly for street hails.

There is a separate fleet of unmetered livery cabs (commonly referred to as black cars, although they come in all colors) that are dispatched, but are not allowed to pick up street hails.

Of course apps like Uber and Hailo are blurring the distinction between the two.

But to get back to your point, yes, the big radio antenna can be a giveaway. So are the two white guys sitting in front with nobody in back, the lack of a plexiglass partition behind the front seat, the outdated fare information on the side of the cab, the medallion number starting with 6Y or 2W, and a handful of other telltale signs.

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For instance, sitting outside a mosque? What are your thoughts on that part of the story Micah? Serious question.

If the NYPD is inappropriately spying on Muslims, that’s one thing.

But it has nothing to do with whether they’re sitting in a marked police cruiser, an unmarked Impala, a fake taxi, or a box truck with the name of a random plumbing or moving company on the side.

This photo is like posting a photo of a video camera and saying “This is the video camera used in NYPD’s indiscriminate and probably illegal spying program. It has a powerful zoom lens and IR capability for shooting in the dark.”

The tech is a legit tool. Whether or not it’s used properly is an entirely separate question.


They should use a van with “Duke City Flowers” printed on the side.

A very big percentage of cab drivers in NYC are Muslim, so there are often taxis sitting outside mosques and an undercover taxi would likely blend in well. At least to the general public… (I’d think cab drivers would be more likely to notice the fake taxi, so if the target is cab drivers, maybe that’s not the best idea?)


Nothing wrong with it? Really? OK to spy and surveille random citizens? I’m gradually starting to accept the fact that the constitution and bill of rights mean nothing any more. So be it. But it always hurts to see the same so blithely dismissed. Fuck this.


The NYPD has lots of different civilian vehicles, and they use them for legitimate policing as well as for possibly illegitimate spying etc. I once saw a pristine dark metallic purple Volvo station wagon with a baby car seat in the back pull someone over for running a red light. Totally banal. This is maybe news to non-NYers, but in reality, if you think about it, it really couldn’t be more, well, banal. This article is just sensationalism, taking advantage of the fact that the NYPD does indeed conduct surveillance, probably somewhat illegally, to drum up pageviews.


The thing is, it’s not just in NYC. Cops do this kind of thing all over the country (USA). Cities, suburbs, small towns and everywhere. It is creepy. As a generally law-abiding citizen, it doesn’t make me feel any safer. In fact just the opposite.


I’d like to see some evidence that this cab is actually routinely sitting outside mosques, rather than this being the standard filler to make sure everyone is dutifully enraged. I’m not sure how you would actually get that data, but it’s an easy claim to make even if you’d only seen it near a mosque once or twice.


Nothing wrong with an unmarked car. Standard police practice. Ask your own police department; if they’ve got more than four cars they probably have an unmarked vehicle, and if they don’t they probably have the policemen’s personal vehicles equipped for that use when necessary. There are too many legitimate applications for silent approach, stake-out, et cetera ad nauseam.

IF they are conducting unreasonable surveillance, that’s an issue. But the cab is not evidence thereof, and not even especially suggestive thereof… Especially in a police department the size of NYC’s, which can afford to (and must) maintain an active detective department and vice squad in addition to constables on patrol.

If you wanna freak about police abuse, great – but freaking about this vehicle just makes you look out of touch with the reality of big-city police work.

Heck, if anything, I find this sorta poetically appropriate. A lot of NYC’s police cars, when retired from service, have traditionally been refurbished into taxi cabs. This one just got the new paint job while still on the beat. Beats the usual “make it boring” unmarked car colors.


Indeed. That’s why a) it’s not really news and b) it does everyone a disservice to say that it’s all about profiling Muslims. They’re using these decoys to police everyone, everywhere, all the time.

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Although I’m sure they have some legit cabs for full on undercover work (which would mostly be narcotics enforcement, and the cabs would probably be seized during the same) I see these things all the time. They’re pretty standard unmarked cars, mostly used for traffic enforcement but can occasionally be seen responding to calls. The officers driving them are usually in uniform too. There’s nothing surprising, odd, or new about this. You wouldn’t believe all the crazy crap they had my dad riding around in back when he was an under cover. Everything from commercial fishing boats, to a hostess truck, and yes cabs and limos (though they were livery we don’t have street cabs where I grew up). Unmarked and undercover vehicles are standard.

As far as overreach in the NYPD’s surveillance/counter terrorism efforts goes that’s not particularly new either. Its been an on going point of criticism since before 9/11. Hell their surveillance of protest/political groups has been a huge issue since the 50’s and 60’s.