Last week, a user on a Brooklyn chapter of the NextDoor social network posted a video of what appears to be an Amazon delivery driver stealing metal barricades off the street and loading them into the back of his blue van, which is emblazoned with the “Prime” logo.
“Amazon worker STEALING barricades from Open Streets,” the post reads. “I saw a man loading up barricades into an Amazon truck. He would pause when a car would go by, closing the doors and then resume when no one was around. I called down from my window asking him what he was doing and he replied that the city told him to bring them back.”
Amazon, when asked for comment, gave a highly intriguing statement. The company said that the van was not an Amazon van at all, but a “counterfeit.”
“The vehicle in the video is a counterfeit vehicle and we’re actively working with the NYPD as they investigate the incident,” Amazon spokesperson Jenna Hilzenrath told Motherboard (the New York Post first reported on this incident). She added that the company believes the person is not an Amazon employee and that it had definitively determined that it was a counterfeit van, though the company would not explain how it knew this or what, specifically, it had done to determine that it was not an Amazon van.
The company repeatedly declined to answer any further questions about the incident and also repeatedly ignored a question about whether it has identified any other counterfeit vans or fake Amazon employees running around doing crimes in New York City or elsewhere. The NYPD confirmed to Motherboard that “the investigation is active and ongoing” but did not answer any specific questions.
Open Streets is a program introduced by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that uses metal, concrete, or wooden barricades to close certain residential streets to cars in order to create more safe places for pedestrians and cyclists during lockdown. The program has become a battleground between pedestrians and car owners in the city. Pedestrians are thrilled to reclaim public space from cars, while car owners complain about having to drive around closed streets. Local Facebook and NextDoor groups have been fighting about Open Streets for months, and barricades that prevent cars from driving down the roads have been removed, graffitied, smashed into by cars, etc.
The barricades at this particular intersection have been sabotaged multiple times. The first barricades were made out of wood, and smashed to bits. When they were replaced with metal barricades, someone took them and hid them in different places around the neighborhood. When Open Streets volunteers locked them up at night, someone jammed the locks. They still haven't been replaced since the Amazon truck took them away.
Rogue impostor or rogue employee? Or cop!
Amazon clearly believes that there is at least one rogue, imposter Amazon employee and van making the rounds in New York City. It is unclear what one would do with an imposter Amazon van besides stealing metal barriers designed to prevent cars from driving down the road. It seems plausible, at least, that an imposter Amazon van and a rogue, imposter “employee” could follow real Amazon vans and steal packages soon after they’re delivered without arousing much suspicion. Still, the mere existence of fake Amazon trucks would open an entire potential world of crime that includes fake decals, specific paint jobs, potential package theft, etc. (Some Amazon-branded decals can be found on eBay, but do not appear to be as sophisticated as whatever is happening on the Prime truck in question.)
Another potential explanation is more mundane: An Amazon employee, perhaps stressed by Amazon’s performance and delivery metrics, was annoyed by a metal barrier that made it more difficult for him to make deliveries, and decided to get rid of it.
Amazon is almost certainly able to determine whether or not the van in question belongs to Amazon or one of its delivery service partners, which are third party contractor businesses who operate Amazon-branded vans. The company is famously obsessive about tracking worker productivity, reducing package theft, and surveilling its workers; it can presumably check to see which Amazon vans were on this specific street at this specific time. If this were an Amazon employee, it would have been easy for the company to say that it was a rogue employee and that they have been fired and that it has no tolerance for employees who do crimes while on the clock (internal worker guidelines previously obtained by Motherboard show that “property damage,” trespassing, “theft,” and “professional misconduct” are all official violations of Amazon’s policies that can get a driver fined.)
It seems impossible that Amazon would be wrong about its own trucks, and yet Amazon has publicly and obviously lied about working conditions, as recently as last month.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the police, and Amazon in collaboration with the police, have both been responsible for counterfeiting in the service of “law enforcement.” Philadelphia police were caught disguising a spy truck as a Google Streetview car in 2016; police around the country have also posed as Uber and Lyft drivers. Amazon, meanwhile, has worked with police in various cities across the country to create package theft “sting” operations in which empty Amazon boxes were outfitted with GPS trackers in order to identify package thieves.
It is possible, then (and is currently a popular theory on NextDoor), that this was a cop disguised as an Amazon employee, collecting or replacing a barricade for a program that has lost steam because it hasn't been supported and reinforced by the city's government as the pandemic drones on. The NextDoor thread, for what it's worth, has devolved into yet another battle between car owners and non-car-owners about the program itself.