Bratton Says The Emphasis This Time Is On Dealing With Panhandlers And The Homeless

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Quality-of-life crimes are once again high on the NYPD’s agenda. The department has a new plan to deal with aggressive panhandlers and the homeless.

But some residents have mixed feelings.

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Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told CBS2’s Sonia Rincon on Thursday he had a meeting with hundreds of top commanders at the police academy in Queens, where they discussed quality-of-life enforcement.

“Just updating them on the various rules, regulations and laws we work with,” Bratton said.

The meeting will lead to more training for police officers on quality-of-life issues, which Bratton said vary by neighborhood, but include public drinking, urinating and noise, Rincon reported.

Panhandling has also come up, but Bratton said begging for money is often protected speech.

“For example if there is a gentleman sitting on the sidewalk here with a sign, ‘I’m hungry, give me money,’ that’s not against the law. That’s protected by the Constitution. That’s an expression of free speech,” Bratton said. “However, if he’s chasing you down the street, grabbing at you or getting in your face or a squeegee person for example who’s intimidating you to let him wash the window, that’s not protected.”

In an interview with City & State magazine, Bratton stressed the importance of dealing with quality-of-life issues before they become bigger problems.

“If you neglect this, it becomes more serious. If you neglect that, it becomes even more serious,” Bratton said. “We’ve been there before. We were there in the 1970s and ’80s. Those of you in this room that are old enough to remember what the ’90s looked like to this city. And that’s part of the issue at the moment. Half the people of this city were not living here 10 or 15 years ago.”

One noticeable change as part of the initiative is the new SkyWatch in Tompkins Square Park, which still sees its share of small crimes. Neighbors, however, told Rincon they have mixed feelings about it.

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“It’s good, it’s safer,” Lowest East Side resident Carmelo Rosario said.

“It’s very intrusive. It doesn’t make me feel safer,” another person said.

Rincon asked residents how the police can better enforce quality-of-life crimes.

“Peeing in public. That should be stopped,” Shana James said. “Yes, it bothers me a lot. I think it’s gross, especially when kids are watching.”

Others said they are bothered by panhandling once it becomes aggressive.

“They’re very intoxicated or just in your face a lot about giving them money,” Nick Selting said.

“I mean, I’ll walk here sometimes at 1 in the morning. I’ll get off late, you know, and they’re just following you for a dollar,” Rafael Rivera added.

Bratton said the public doesn’t always understand what’s legal and what’s not, but at least now the police officers will have a better understanding and will be able to make those arrests when that public behavior crosses the line and becomes harassment.

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Police officers will be getting reminders on the dos and don’ts of cracking down on smaller crimes. Bratton said not only is it critical that the issues be addressed right now, but that officers be confident that they’re not the ones breaking the law.