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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

THE CHOP SHOP

"123 Sector Adam-Boy, K" intoned the voice of the police dispatcher. The late tour had been slow and we welcomed the job as we cruised the streets of the Tottenville Precinct.

 "Respond to a report of a derelict auto on Woodrow Road between Bloomingdale Road and Rossville Avenue, K"  

In the late '70s, that area was sparsely populated with lots of wooded acreage on each side of the road. It was a prime dumping ground for stolen autos.

"123 Adam-Boy, 10-4"

We gave each other a knowing look as we responded to the scene of the so-called "derelict auto".
As we rolled up to the abandoned car, our suspicions were confirmed. Only the "shell" remained of what had been a very expensive late model car. The interior had been completely dismantled. The doors, "nose", trunk, and entire engine and transmission were gone.  All wheels were also removed.   Yet, the "shell" was in excellent condition. It hadn't been torched or vandalized in any way. It had been professionally dismantled and left on the roadside for us to discover.

We dutifully transmitted the VIN number to Central and the Police Dispatcher got the registered owner's name for us. There was no alarm on the car. That meant that there was no "61" or police complaint report on it yet. 

The entire 123rd Precinct was a dumping ground for stolen cars.  The large wooded areas provided cover for car thieves to strip parts and then torch the shells of the cars.  There were lots of junkyards in the precinct. One tip off that a junkyard was dealing in stolen car parts would be the presence of "noses". The "nose" of a car was the front end of the vehicle including the hood, fenders, and bumper assembly.  Most accidents involved the front end of vehicles, so a complete "nose" was very valuable. We would pass some junkyards with "noses" stacked up ten rows high on large shelves.   But, there was a new wrinkle lately.

 We noticed a particular auto repair shop that always seemed to get the most expensive cars that had been recovered in the area.  The owner was a snotty-faced wise guy with an attitude.   "Snot-face" would arrange a deal with dishonest owners of late model cars that couldn't make the payments on their cars.  They would arrange to steal the car.  The owner would bring the car to the  garage. Once inside, "Snot-face" would professionally dismantle the car.  The transmission, engine, wheels, interior and other parts would be removed and hidden inside the large garage. Then, late a night, "Snot-face" would tow the shell of the car to isolated areas of the precinct.  He would dump the shell off the side of the road and quickly make an anonymous phone call to the precinct about a derelict auto.  That was the scary part of the plan.  If the cops didn't respond quick enough, other car thieves might discover the shell and steal it or just vandalize it.

Patrol cops who suspected illegal chop shops would report their suspicions on intelligence reports.  In those days, the priority for sector cars was to be available to respond to 911 calls.  As slaves to 911, patrol cops spent little or no time engaged in creative or proactive police work.  We had our suspicions about "Snot-face" and had dropped reports on his garage.  We just didn't have the time or the support of the department to follow up on our suspicions. 

We dialed the phone number of the registered owner.  He could have been given an academy award for acting as he sleepily answered his phone. 

Yes. He was the owner of the car. No, it was parked in his driveway. What?  Wait a minute.  It's not there. Gee, what happened?  Oh, No! Someone must have stolen it. Is it OK?

The last question was the most important one for the owner.  If somebody had torched the shell, the elaborate plan would be in trouble. 

We took his bogus report and prepared the reports and inventoried the shell. The alarm for the car was cancelled in transmission, because we had already recovered the car.

That was when "the plan" went into operation.  The owner would immediately call for a tow truck to respond to pick up the shell of his car. That tow truck would be none other than our snotty faced creep.   "Snot-face" would be on the scene within minutes and hook up the shell to his late-model tow truck.   He stored the shell inside his garage and went home to bed.

"Snot-face" now had an expensive late model car stashed at his garage for the insurance company adjuster to evaluate.  When the insurance man responded and "totaled" the remains of the car,  "Snot-face" would offer to purchase the shell from the insurance company.  He got the shell with little difficulty.  The corrupt insurance claims adjuster was a key element in this little plot.   Without him, the plan wouldn't have much chance for success.  He never would notice the other car parts to the shell that were all over the garage.

Once "Snot-face" got a clear title to the car, he went into action.  The shell, with its VIN number was now his property.  The entire remains of the car were inside his garage. He merely put the car back together that he had dismantled the night before, and he now had a brand new car to resell.  Who was going to investigate to find that the replaced engine, transmission, and other parts were the original parts? There was no alarm on the car now. The insurance company had settled with owner.  The precinct closed out the report for the record. The detectives were not notified about a closed case.

 (This was many years before the advent of Compstat.   Today, the computerization of crime reports enables the NYPD to monitor crime trends with such efficiency, that guys like "Snot-face" can't operate. The precinct detectives and Auto Crime units would pick up on him in a heartbeat.  But, it would be years before that level of sophistication would be brought into police work)

Everyone was happy.  The owner, who was insured for theft with his insurance company, was happy. The insurance claims adjuster was compensated by "Snot-face" for his cooperation.  "Snot-face" now had a brand new car to sell. "Snot-face" was a legal Vehicle Dismantler under the Vehicle and Traffic Law. The vehicle dismantlers who worked in his chop shop had steady work.

When they finally collared "Snot-face" he always managed to bounce back. I never knew him to serve any time for his crimes. Whenever, I would follow the career of a guy like "Snot-face", I just knew that he was a "snitch". 

"Snitches" or criminal confidential informants always had that snotty-faced attitude towards street cops.  They were protected, and they knew it.  They would always manage to be cut loose at some stage of their process though arrest or subsequent court procedures.   Most street cops run across these scumbags. 

Their attitude towards street cops was one of disdain and condescension. Street cops were low on the totem pole in the world of policing in their estimation.   These "rats" or "snitches" are not to be confused with legitimate citizens who report criminal activity to the police.  They are criminals who save their asses by electing to rat out their fellow criminals. 

They also use their contacts with the police to hurt their competition.  The information that they provide can eliminate their fellow criminals who are competing with their criminal enterprise.   So who is in charge?  Is it the police contact who thinks the informant is under his control? Or is it the "snitch".  It is interesting to note that criminal confidential informants are given an identification number.  The cop who recruits the informant must provide the full identity of the informant. When the recruiting officer is transferred or leaves his assignment, the informant remains in place. 

Criminal confidential informants engage in treachery.  It is a way of life for them. They lie, cheat, and betray those that trust them.  Prosecutors who use them and police who handle them must never forget that.

Copyright © 2000 Edward D. Reuss

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