NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Forget the topless painted women and the aggressive costumed characters, the real problem in Times Square is apparently the massive selfie-and kiss-projecting big screen.
The screen is often used as a kiss cam. But as CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported, police said several people have been arrested for groping tourists in front of the camera – including one suspected serious serial offender.
The Revlon “Love Is On” billboard – at 1500 Broadway at 43rd Street — is meant to get people to cozy up to each other and pose for the kiss cam. But some strangers are allegedly getting too close.
“We found there were those who were taking advantage if people’s attention,” said police Commissioner Bill Bratton. “You’d think something that’s being photographed would deter them, but just the opposite — it encouraged them.”
A 27-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday night after police saw him inappropriately touching five different women who were huddling and posing for the camera.
The suspect, Delashon Atkins, lives in Newark and was not home Friday. But women hearing about his alleged conduct in Times Square were hoping he doesn’t come back.
“That is so creepy,” said Tara Lee Schoen. “That’s awful.”
Schoen was surprised that such alleged acts would happen so publicly.
“I mean, back in the day you would expect something like that. You know, it was kind of seedy. You didn’t want to really hang out by yourself or anything, but it’s not that vibe anymore,” she said. “That’s not good. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I was here a long time ago, and it was not the kind of place you would come and do a kiss cam,” added Lydia Golden.
Tuesday was not the first time Atkins had been arrested at Times Square. Police said back on Aug. 7, he was caught doing the same thing to a 13-year-old girl.
Atkins has since been ordered to stay away from her.
Bratton noted Times Square has so little criminal activity that even when there are 500,000 people on the street and 300,000 in the subways below on some days, there is no reported crime, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
But he added, “The biggest hot spot in Times Square is that Revlon sign, and the biggest crime problem we have there is people coming up and groping people so intent on taking selfies of themselves. They don’t realize somebody is grabbing their butt while they are taking that photo.”
Bratton said there have been a few arrests, and that is why the operators of the Revlon camera have agreed to turn it off late at night.
“The time that they now shut it off, I think, is like at 8 o’clock at night because the preponderance of the activity that was being reported, that our undercover officers were encountering, seemed to be after that period of time,” Bratton said.
He called the 8 p.m. hour the “witching hour” for predators.
Police sources said the new Times Square Task Force is looking at the problem. There are more tables and chairs now where the crowds used to gather.
On Friday afternoon, the Naked Cowboy and the usual tourist attractions were spotted in Times Square. But the Revlon camera was turned off, showing only old pictures and ads.
“It’ll be something that as we go forward with our additional cameras; additional officers in the square, that’s the type of behavior we’ll be able to focus on,” Bratton said.
Police sources told CBS2 there have been more than a dozen complaints of inappropriate touching and pickpocketing in Times Square in the last two months, all when the kiss cam was on.