Illegal vendors overrun the Bronx after police responsibilities canceled

Mary Altaffer

New York City put a new law into effect this year that “relieved” the police of the responsibility of managing illegal street vending operations and sidewalk gambling activities. This was part of the movement to defund or abolish the police. Instead of having cops maintain the situation, that responsibility was handed over to a group of civilian “intervention” specialists. The theory behind this law was that confrontations with the police over so-called “quality of life” crimes could lead to more instances where the police would need to use force to clear the streets and gain compliance.

The problem is that the new agency tasked with these responsibilities was given no authority to confiscate goods or take anyone into custody. They aren’t even allowed to demand to see the identification of the people they “intervene” with. Would anyone care to take a guess as to what happened next? In one business district in the Bronx, illegal vendors and three-card monte dealers have taken over the streets, frequently blocking access to the storefronts in that neighborhood. And when the “intervention” people come along, the vendors just thumb their noses at them. Oh, and crime has gone up considerably, with one vendor recently being shot in broad daylight during a dispute. (NY Post)

“It looks like a bazaar in Istanbul,” said Marko Majic, head of business development for City Jeans on East Fordham Road.

“The only difference is in Istanbul it’s legal and organized and here it is illegal and unorganized,” Majic said.

Wilma Alonso, director of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District, recently counted 242 sidewalk vendors along the shopping corridor from Grand Concourse to Webster Avenue.

That same area has just 230 storefronts.

If only someone could have predicted this. Oh, wait… that’s right. We did predict it. The NYPD predicted it. The business owners associations predicted it. Everyone could see it coming except for the City Council and the Mayor.

The intervention specialists report to the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection. The DCAWP is not a law enforcement agency. Its employees have no experience in dealing with crime or handling potentially hostile situations. And some of them are probably beginning to realize that a clipboard won’t stop a bullet.

When the New York Post interviewed a spokesperson for the DCAWP, they sounded as if these new responsibilities had taken them by surprise. She said that they had been under the impression that the new program wasn’t even going to go into effect until some time in the fall. She also said that they had just started doing “educational walks” and “inspections” of street vendors at the beginning of June. But thus far, they had only issued eight violations. Most of them were issued to “John and Jane Doe” because the vendors refused to identify themselves and the inspectors couldn’t do anything about it.

The store owners in the district are in dire straits. After being shut down for most of the pandemic by the government, now the doors to their shops are blocked by hustlers. Many of the illegal vendors sell the same products the stores do (or cheap knockoffs of them) and charge less for them. They don’t have to pay any overhead or taxes or business fees, so they can charge less.

These are the “improvements” being seen by defunding the police and reassigning their duties. These illegal vendors aren’t stupid. They can read a newspaper and figure out that the candy store is open and the police are no longer a factor. Now try to imagine how many tourists want to go walking around an area like that, particularly in a shopping district that relies on tourism to survive.

Congratulations, New York City. You’ve certainly put the police in their place, haven’t you? And look at the wonderful paradise that is flourishing in their absence.