We previously talked about the frustration that New York City officials, residents and tourists have been feeling as the pedestrian plaza in Times Square has been overrun by panhandlers, homeless persons, unlicensed vendors and costumed or topless performers begging for money. That last category of buskers has had visitors and law enforcement particularly up in arms since, especially during daylight hours, the area was supposed to be a family friendly environment. The mayor opened up a special task force to consider their options and an announcement which surfaced yesterday may be the first result of those efforts.
The new plan, strangely enough, can be summed up in two words: more cops. (New York Daily News)
Wanted: A few good cops to take on crime and quality of life issues in Times Square.
The NYPD announced it was seeking volunteers to serve in Manhattan South’s “newly formed Times Square unit,” according to an internal message obtained Wednesday by The Daily News…
Right now 47 cops patrol the area, he said. The goal is to more than double that to 100 officers by October, 60 of whom will work the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.
The development came as City Hall, prodded by a series of stories by the Daily News, began taking aim at the aggressive costumed characters and topless ladies who prey on tourists in the Crossroads of the World.
Having a larger police presence in the square can certainly provide a more secure feeling for the pedestrians and would likely cut down on other forms of crime, including muggings and assaults. What’s not clear here, however, is what they specifically would be doing about the buskers. As we noted in the first piece on this subject, both panhandling and public topless appearances are legal in the Big Apple. But the police seem to be angling toward cutting back on “aggressive” panhandling. That’s a pretty fine line to walk for the cops, though. How are they going to define “aggressive” when painted ladies are approaching tourists and saying they will pose for a picture if you give them ten dollars? Sure, you can refuse and begin to walk away, and if they pursue you the cops could step in to chastise them, but it doesn’t sound like they could pull off an arrest. And that doesn’t change the fact that the families with kids in tow have already had a half naked woman walk up to them and engage them in conversation.
Once again, the conditions being faced by the Times Square denizens are not some sudden new thing. This is the result of an extensive period where the police have been told to cut down on proactive policing and to ignore “minor crimes.” Not only are the hard core criminals emboldened, but the street hustlers are essentially fearless. And if the cops do “hassle” anyone, the panhandlers will likely be able to get a free lawyer to sue the city and hit a big payday.
The problem here isn’t the cops and it isn’t even the petty criminals in the streets. It’s the Mayor and a history of liberal policies which are returning the city to the chaotic conditions of the 70s and 80s when the area was virtually uninhabitable for the average citizen. But as Mayor de Blasio’s poll numbers continue to sink, perhaps he’ll either get the message or get the boot. Either could only result in an improvement.
But to be fair to both sides, if you follow the NYDN link there is a video at the bottom of the article which interviews a couple of the “painted ladies” in the Square. They, of course, insist they’re doing nothing wrong and just trying to make a living. (Warning: This video contains a few clips of the women in body paint which are probably NSFW and not for the kids, either.) I was going to embed the video here but they don’t have an option to kill the autoplay.