NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The NYPD has established a new task force to patrol Times Square, and that is just the beginning of the city’s efforts to combat the spread of aggressive panhandling, costumed characters and other quality of life issues.
As CBS2 Political reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the costumed characters and topless painted ladies seen around the Times Square pedestrian plaza will soon get a whole lot of company in blue uniforms.
The NYPD is establishing a new task force of 100 officers to patrol the Bowtie area of Times Square, which include the Broadway Plazas. It is just part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s determination to get a handle on a situation that his administration called “nuisance quality of life issues” by creating a multiagency task force.
“The mayor’s goal is to crack down on particularly aggressive solicitation that oftentimes borders on outright harassment – people harassing people for money,” said de Blasio senior advisor Phil Walzak.
The officers will be assigned to foot posts from 42nd Street to 49th Street and from Seventh Avenue to Broadway – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Times Square is an important piece of real estate in New York City, and we have to pay attention to what is going on there,” said NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill.
O’Neill said the idea is for the same cops to work the same posts every day to get familiar with the people and the territory, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.
“We think it’s very smart,” he said.
The NYPD is recruiting officers for the new unit even before the mayor’s Times Square Task Force decides whether to dig up the pedestrian mall, or what other steps to take.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, a co-chair on the task force, has already voiced his support for doing away with the plazas, which he says create a gathering spot that breeds problematic behavior.
“We have a one-month process, and this is one of the things that has to be examined,” de Blasio said Tuesday.
The plazas were implemented by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009.
Tim Tompkins, of the Times Square Alliance, said the NYPD used to have a unit to deal with these types of problems.
“It was disbanded under Bloomberg because that category of problem and crime wasn’t really happening in Times Square and we thought that makes sense,” he said. “So I think you don’t always need something like this, but when something new emerges, sometimes you need a special unit because it’s complicated.”
Meanwhile, some costumed characters decided to expand their operations and move downtown – a development that has not escaped the city’s attention.
A turf war erupted on Tuesday between costumed characters in the Battery Park area, resulting in a fist fight between Minnie Mouse and the Statue of Liberty, 1010 WINS’ John Montone reported.
Blue from the Bronx said this has to be stopped.
“It’s going to scare the tourists and the residents from New York,” he said. ‘They should ban that and arrest everybody.”
Rich from New Jersey said it’s all bad for business.
“Especially down here,” he said. “You got Statue of Liberty people trying to get on the boat and then being bothered. It’s ridiculous.”
And the de Blasio administration has now established a new working group to deal with the characters now seen in Battery Park, as well as at Coney Island in Brooklyn and maybe other parts of the city now that the heat is on in Times Square.
Last May, CBS2 caught a person dressed as the Statue of Liberty demanding $5 from a tourist after posing with his child in Battery Park. But on Wednesday, CBS2 cameras found a huge police presence at the Battery – a big command post bus, loads of officers, and patrols where the characters usually stand in wait.
The police presence apparently sent the characters scurrying away, Kramer reported.
“In New York City, we have a thriving tourist industry – 55-plus million people a year – and we want for tourists, and we want for residents to feel very welcome and not subject to the kind of harassment that can be such a nuisance.”
City Councilman Mark Treyger (D-47th) said costumed characters are also a big problem at Coney Island.
“If one parent requests a photograph with one of the characters with their children, the other characters jump into the photograph and begin demanding money,” Treyger, a Democrat whose district includes Coney Island, told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb.
Treyger said the city should not treat the issue in isolation. The councilman said the problem is easier to address on Coney Island because the beach is designated as parkland, requiring businesses to obtain vending permits. He said better enforcement is needed.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, one of the members of the new working group, also said the crackdown has spread to Coney Island and other places, because, “we cannot abide by unregulated and unenforced activity that negatively impacts local small businesses.., and poses a threat to public safety.”