NEW YORK — An identification placard in a van that caused a security scare in Times Square a day before the city's massive New Year's celebration wasn't supposed to be used as a parking permit, according to a fraternal group for police officers and other law enforcement buffs that issued the card.
Police department officials said traffic agents and officers apparently overlooked a van parked illegally on Broadway for at least two days because of the windshield placard from a nonprofit group called the Detectives Crime Clinic of New Jersey and New York. The group said Friday it doesn't know how the card ended up in the van.
A private security guard finally grew suspicious Wednesday because the van had no license plates and blacked-out windows. Police blocked off part of the square for hours and two high-rise buildings, home to Nasdaq and publishing company Conde Nast, were partially evacuated.
A bomb squad examined the vehicle a day before the city's New Year's Eve celebration, which draws hundreds of thousands of revelers from around the world to the heart of Times Square to see the ball drop at midnight.
The incident raised a question: Why would officers patrolling security-sensitive Times Square give a free pass to a van simply because it had an ID placard from a little-known nonprofit group?
A lawyer for the Detectives Crime Clinic, Michael Discioarro, told The Associated Press on Friday that the cards are not supposed to carry any special benefits, other than to identify holders as members in the organization.
"They aren't official," he said. "You're not supposed to use it to park illegally."
"It's pretty cheesy-looking," he added.
Asked whether such placards could help members avoid parking tickets by identifying themselves as law-enforcement supporters, Discioarro said, "I'm not going to get into characterizing what people get out of them."
He acknowledged, though, that the police department had complained about the placards at least once before.
"We dealt with them a year ago," Discioarro said. "Then they forgot about it."
Discioarro said the Detectives Crime Clinic has been around since the 1940s. He said its main function is to hand out awards to law enforcement officials and give members a chance to meet socially.
"We like to get together and tell war stories and drink," he said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has ordered the police department's legal bureau to look into the placard issue.
So far, the episode has led to charges only against a street vendor police identified as the van's owner.
George Freyre, of Palisades Park, N.J., was arraigned Friday on charges that he forged a date on the vehicle's temporary registration.
Freyre was released without bail after his lawyer, Bruce Wenger, denied that his client owned the van and was innocent of any forgery. He said Freyre only turned himself in because he heard police were looking for him.
Discioarro said the Detectives Crime Clinic had no record of Freyre being a member and theorized the ID placard may have been stolen.
He said it was "ridiculous" for the police department to blame the security scare on the group.