By Lenis Rodrigues, Media Relations Staff
On any given day, thousands of trucks travel through Port Authority’s seaport, tunnels and bridges. They’re routinely monitored by Port Authority Police officers on the lookout for traffic violations.
In the background, however, a specialized group of officers roves among the facilities seeking to ensure trucks have no mechanical or other operational issues that might pose a serious safety risk to the traveling public.
The Port Authority Commercial Vehicle Inspection unit (CVI) provides that extra layer of vehicular protection for drivers and passengers alike. Formed in 1998, members of the CVI routinely climb up, below and around stopped trucks, checking for dysfunctional axles, tires, brakes and lights. Trucks with serious safety defects are pulled out of service until repairs can be made.
In 2019 alone, the unit inspected 4,637 suspect vehicles at Port Authority crossings and port facilities, with 470 of them taken out of service.
“Every truck we knock out of service is a potential AI (accident investigation) because we are knocking them out of service for no brakes, no steering, when they’re heavy and that the vehicle is operating in an unsafe manner because of a mechanical issue,” said PAPD Officer Michael Kostelnik, a 21-year veteran, during a recent shift monitoring trucks on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel.
Each CVI officer is equipped with a special computer used every time they stop a truck. Inputting the truck’s USDOT number, they can check the truck owner’s database, number of trucks in its fleet, whether the company paid fees to operate that specific truck and the history of past inspections. The unit employs state-of-the-art inspection and weight enforcement equipment, including handheld scales, mobile deck scale systems and mobile motor coach inspection ramps.
In addition to safety inspections, CVI officers also regularly perform radiological screening at the Port Authority’s airports, seaport, bridges and tunnels. They also undertake hazardous material policing and technical decontamination operations in support of the PAPD’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU). Last year, the unit conducted 25 hazmat inspections.
Additionally, CVI is part of the PAPD’s Rapid Response Team, tasked with responding to incidents that happen in neighboring towns or to assist ESU or the Counterterrorism Unit. Most recently, the unit’s officers responded to the deadly shooting at a grocery store in Jersey City.
Sometimes, the stops lead to more than the unit taking a faulty truck off the road. Officer Francis Franco, a 17-year member of CVI, once confiscated $1.3 million in fake name-brand bags and clothes at the George Washington Bridge with his partner, Officer John Collins.
“Every day is fun coming to work. We’ve always had a great group of guys, passing onto them the knowledge of the unit to the new members,” Franco said. “Accident investigations are always interesting. It’s never the same one. It’s never a boring day here and always a cat and mouse game.”