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Crackdown on Topless Women Snags Times Square Vendors in Ticketing Blitz

By Gwynne Hogan | September 17, 2015 7:44am
 Street vendors in Times Square say they've been caught up in the crackdown on topless women. 
NYPD Swamps Vendors in Ticketing Blitz
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TIMES SQUARE — The NYPD crackdown on topless women in Times Square has also ensnared regular street vendors, who said they have been swamped with summonses for minor infractions since the mayor announced his campaign to clean up the Crossroads of the World.

Humberto Fernandez, 45, who sells sugar-coated peanuts at his Nuts4Nuts cart, showed DNAinfo New York nine tickets he's received since Aug. 21.

"[It’s] lost time," Fernandez, who’s been selling peanuts in Times Square for almost a decade, said in Spanish. "One day of not working; you have to go to court."

"That’s nine days of work," he added. "Now they come every day."

The ticket blitz follows announcements by the mayor that the city would be "very aggressive" in its effort to curb topless women or "desnudas" who roam the pedestrian plazas having their photos taken with tourists in exchange for money.

Soon after, NYPD officials said they were going to beef up the police presence in the area with the creation of a Times Square Unit, though those 100 officers have not yet been reassigned to the area, according to local police.

Most of Fernandez’s tickets stated he was too close to the crosswalk on the corner of 46th Street and Seventh Avenue. He said only once had an officer actually measured the distance he was from the crosswalk.

Across the street, Emam Sakr, who sells halal food near the corner of 46th and Seventh Avenue, said other workers who use the same food cart have gotten about 50 tickets in the past month.

Sakr said they've been repeatedly ticketed for being too close to a fire hydrant and for being too close to a store’s entrance. At first he wondered if he was actually in the wrong.

"I went to the city. [I asked], 'Is my spot legal or illegal?' They said, ‘Oh you’re legal.’"

The fire hydrant clause only applies to carts in the street, and he sits is on the sidewalk. The distance from the door rule only applies if carts are directly in front of the entrance, according to city regulations, and his is parked to the right.

The next time a police officer visits, he said he would be better prepared.

"I showed him the rules, he said 'I don’t care,'" Sakr said.

On a more recent incident, Sakr tried begging with the officer, explaining that the vendors had already gotten more than 50 tickets and weren't breaking any rules.

"You know what he told me? He told me: 'Make it 51,'" he said. "Most of the police here they treat us like animals, not human beings."

Inspector John Hart, commander of the Midtown North Precinct, confirmed the past month's ticketing blitz, an increase that he said coincided with all the media hype surrounding topless women. Legally, women are allowed to go topless in New York City, but the scantily clad street performers have been cited for other reasons.

"We decided that the time had come to make the rules stick," he said at a recent community council meeting.

Before the increased ticketing began in August, he said, his officers visited vendors for three days, hoping to educate them about the regulations.

He also admitted that the rules about who can sell what and where are very complex, and that his officers may still not understand 100 percent.

"There may be some confusion," Hart said, adding that his precinct will continue to educate officers about the regulations.

"If you go through Times Square you will find hundreds of violations that we're not enforcing," he said. "[Vendors are] on the border of the rules a lot."

One Times Square vendor said he thought that he had become a scapegoat when police officers couldn't do anything to restrict topless women.

"They’re punishing everybody because they can’t charge the girls down here," said Wilbert Espinal, a 34-year-old vendor who sells sunglasses and T-shirts on 46th Street.

"We work to support our families; they try to find any law they have ... use any little glitch," he said.