Suffolk police Chief Stuart Cameron, displays an altered license plate...

Suffolk police Chief Stuart Cameron, displays an altered license plate at a news conference Thursday, March 23, 2017, to announce a crackdown on drivers who change their plates to avoid tolls or red light laws. Credit: James Carbone

Drivers who cover or alter their New York license plates beware — fix it. It’s illegal.

For two weeks, beginning April 1, Suffolk County and state police said they are cracking down on motorists who impede efforts by officers and surveillance technology to read their license plates.

“Strict enforcement is important because license plate covers and having only one license plate are allowing motorists to evade tickets and tolls,” said State Police Maj. David Candelaria, commander of Troop L in Farmingdale, at a Thursday news conference in Yaphank.

Motorists are resorting to various ways, some quite extensive and clever, to make the characters on their license plates less visible or impossible for surveillance cameras to capture, said Suffolk police Chief Stuart Cameron

Some have used plastic and tinted covers, he said. Others have sprayed a coat of film on their license plates or removed or applied paint to the characters. One person went so far as to rig the license plate so it dropped down at the push of a button.

“Clearly the intent, and the only intent, is to defeat law enforcement’s ability to identify that specific vehicle because we can no longer read the license plate,” Cameron said.

Violators will be fined or charged with a crime, Cameron said.

“It could potentially result in serious charges for someone that is intentionally altering their license plate to engage in criminal conduct,” he said.

Changing the plates can lead to loss revenue from tolls and red-light cameras but that isn’t the only concern, law enforcement officials said.

Police departments on Long Island have poured millions of dollars into automatic license plate readers — which use high-speed cameras to photograph license plates — to catch traffic scofflaws and help solve crimes, including homicides and robberies.

These automatic plate readers are mounted on police cars or on fixed objects like road signs, bridges and on buildings. There is an expansive network of more than 100 license plate reader cameras installed throughout Long Island.

Cameron said all the money invested in this surveillance technology is “a waste” if it’s unable to read the license plates.

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