By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — An NYPD crackdown on Canal Street's illegal vendors has the sellers fighting back.
"They have become more aggressive, even with us," said Capt. Edward Winski, commanding officer of the 1st Precinct. "They used to be more timid. [Now] they fight with us, and then they run."
Vendors are struggling more with the officers who arrest them, and one vendor recently threw hot coffee in a sergeant’s face, Winski said.
Winski believes the violence is in response to a coordinated effort between the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which has led to more vendors being arrested, having their property confiscated and serving time in jail.
Since March, the NYPD has arrested 1,605 illegal vendors and seized nearly $50,000, 24,675 handbags, 8,748 DVDs and 6,619 watches, Winski told the 1st Precinct Community Council Thursday night.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who also attended the meeting, said more of the vendors who are arrested are serving jail time, as prosecutors zero in on repeat offenders and make stronger cases against them in court.
Vance gave the example of an illegal vendor who had been arrested more than 10 times in one year and was let out every time without going to jail. When the vendor was arrested once again last July, prosecutors laid out his history before a judge, and he was sentenced to 60 days, Vance said.
Several residents and business owners who attended the meeting said they were grateful for the enforcement, but they’re concerned that vendors remain a major presence around Canal Street.
"I’ve really felt uneasy and unsafe," said Leigh Behnke, who lives at Canal and Greene streets. "Every day there is an argument among the vendors, and it ends in violence."
Behnke and several of her neighbors recently formed the Broadway Residents Coalition to push for better security and quality of life in the neighborhood, and they already have more than 65 members, she said.
Vance acknowledged that there is still more work to be done.
"I know we’re not doing a perfect job," Vance said. "I know folks in this neighborhood are still frustrated."
In addition to maintaining a steady presence on Canal Street, Winski plans to target local businesses that support the illegal vendors by allowing them to hang out or use the bathrooms, he said.
"It’s not something we’re going to forget about," Winski said. "We’re going to keep battling it."