NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The NYPD wants amateur acrobats who perform on subway trains to take a seat.
The NYPD is cracking down on the subway showmen who use trains as moving stages. Police say they create a safety risk for passengers by flipping, somersaulting and pole-dancing in crowded cars.
More than 240 people have been arrested on misdemeanors related to acrobatics so far this year, compared with fewer than 40 at this time a year ago.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledges he is targeting subway acrobats as part of his embrace of the “broken windows” theory of policing, that low-grade lawlessness can cultivate a greater sense of disorder and embolden more dangerous offenders.
“As skilled as they may be, the potential risk to themselves and the public on a moving subway car that sways, moves, jolts is too great to ignore,” Bratton said in May.
The subway acrobats say they’re just out to entertain, make a living and put a little communal levity in New York’s no-eye-contact commuting.
“We all, as New Yorkers, get these force fields around us. We just try to go inside the train and change the vibe,” said a performer named Besnkheru, who, because of the crackdown, spoke on the condition that his full name not be used.
Many straphangers said they enjoy the performers or just ignore them.
“Most of them, I find, are very talented and I enjoy it,” one woman told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“They’re providing not just entertainment, but it’s work,” another man said. “They are putting in time every day.”
But other passengers resent becoming a captive audience for acrobats and break-dancers in a cramped subway car.
“I don’t like all that action right in front of my face,” rider Kesia Hudson said.
Police believe most riders agree with Hudson and though no injuries have been reported, they also insist the showmanship is a safety issue.
“If the dancers make a mistake, someone could get hurt,” said Chief Joseph Fox, head of the NYPD’s Transit Bureau. “The dancers themselves could get hurt.”
Police have responded by studying passenger complaints to determine when and where to put plainclothes officers on trains to nab acrobats.
The arrests are usually uneventful but can turn nasty. An acrobat who was being arrested spit on one officer and tried to bite another.
“No matter how you look at it, it’s dangerous,” Fox said. “It’s dangerous for us, too.”
The MTA has a program in place called Music Under New York that, after auditions, gives 300 performers a high-profile, highly trafficked spot underground, off the trains, where they can perform for tips.
Last month, Bratton also said the MTA should install security cameras on all new subway cars.
The MTA said it is “studying the possibility of installing surveillance cameras in future subway car models” but admitted it “would be a difficult technical challenge.”
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