NYC officials use GPS to bust thieves who heisted Parks Dept. truck and sped to Virginia
City officials last month watched in real time as a stolen Parks Department truck clocked speeds of 95 mph in a mad dash along I-95 that ended with the arrest of three bandits in Virginia.
The Ford F-250 pickup was parked in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park the morning of Jan. 23 when it was hot-wired.
Less than 20 minutes later, an automated GPS system that tracks the whereabouts of all 23,000 New York City government vehicles sent alerts to officials, who could see exactly where the carjackers were heading.
“We all watched this vehicle as it escaped the City of New York,” said Keith Kerman, chief fleet officer at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. “This is a $30,000 pickup truck used for park operations. It’s supposed to be used to keep our park clean and safe... We see it’s speeding down the highway going 95 mph.”
The truck zoomed along Interstate 95 through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and into Virginia. City officials had no idea where the thieves were headed — but alerted local police along the way.
The group eventually rolled up to a truck stop in Warfield, Va., a small, rural town 400 miles away from New York City. Virginia State Police troopers were waiting for them.
Cops arrested Sharmie Middleton, 44, Isiah Pough-Joseph, 28, and Jordan Walden, 28, after they rolled up in the city-owned pickup truck. All three are from New York — and were hit with felony charges for intending to sell a stolen vehicle. They each face up to five years in prison.
The truck was towed back to the city with minor damage, officials said.
Kerman said the save was made possible by a program launched in 2019 to install “telematic” technology in every city-owned vehicle.
The upgrades were a part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program. The tech allows officials to see where government cars are located — and receive notifications whenever one is involved in a crash.
“This is a really nice example of technology leading to a positive result,” said Kerman. “We’ve had city vehicles that were stolen and we tracked them down and found them. But this was the first time our telematics tracked it in real time.”
Kerman said the technology cost roughly $3 million to deploy — but said it’s already paid for itself because better monitoring helped reduce the size of the city’s fleet by roughly 1,000 vehicles.
More than 70 city-owned vehicles have been stolen or vandalized in the past year, Kerman said. He hopes the technology helps bring that number down.
“It’s a serious issue for us if a city vehicle or an officially marked vehicle is stolen,” said Kerman. “Those could be used in criminal acts — those could be used in violent acts.”