News

NYPD to tourists: Call 911 if superhero bothers you

NYPD to tourists: Call 911 if superhero bothers you

TIMES SQUARE: A visitor to Times Square poses for photos with iconic costumed characters, Monday, July 28, in New York. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he believes the people wearing character costumes in Times Square should be licensed and regulated. Photo: Associated Press/Rachelle Blidner

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York police have begun handing out fliers to tourists in Times Square telling them that tipping the costumed superheroes and children’s characters who pose for photographs is optional, and to call the 911 emergency number if they have complaints.

The fliers are part of an aggressive crackdown after a string of arrests of people dressed as characters who have gotten into confrontations with tourists or police, including one dressed as Spider-Man charged last month with punching a police officer who intervened in a tipping dispute.

“Tipping is optional,” the fliers say in capital letters, printed in five languages in partnership with the Times Square Alliance, which promotes area businesses. “If you have any complaints, talk to a police officer or call 911.”

Police said they arrested three more characters on Saturday, the first day the fliers were handed out: men dressed as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Elmo. Police also gave another man dressed as Iron Man a court summons.

All were charged with disorderly conduct for obstructing pedestrian traffic, while the man dressed as Spider-Man faces an additional charge of aggressive solicitation.

Dozens of people dressed as characters roam the crowded sidewalks and plaza around Times Square on any given day, stretching their arms out toward passing children, many in somewhat ratty costumes. They typically carry laminated cards or pouches labeled with the word “TIPS,” which they wave at tourists after a photograph has been taken.

The city’s highest officials have taken notice. Bill Bratton, the police commissioner, has expressed concern about the “Elmo craze.” Mayor Bill de Blasio says the behavior of the characters should be regulated.

In interviews on Monday, men dressed as Elmo and Batman rejected the idea that they are no more than panhandlers in fancy dress.

“This is not a problem for me, this is good,” Victor Aldea of Passaic, New Jersey said of the fliers after lifting up his Elmo head. He said he and other performers never insisted on a tip, and would settle for a child’s smile.

Jose Escalona-Martinez said the U.S. Constitution gives him the right to wear whatever he likes in Times Square – a Batman costume, in his case – and questioned police priorities.

“If they want to do that job, passing out fliers, not looking for real crimes, it’s fine with us,” he said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Will Dunham)

Recent Headlines

12 hours ago in Viral Videos

Will Ferrell wants to be the new animal expert on ‘The Late Show’

15-overlay-7

Stephen Colbert's "The Late Show" doesn’t have an animal expert yet, so why shouldn’t it be Will Ferrell?

17 hours ago in Entertainment

The pouting male models are back for ‘Zoolander 2’

25-overlay-1

Derek and Hansel are back.

17 hours ago in Music

Kelly Clarkson teases top-secret new project with adorable daughter

16-overlay-8

It was a mother-daughter version of a "Super Bowl" ad.

17 hours ago in Entertainment

TV producers may start making you wait for new shows online

hulu

Cord-cutters beware: You might have to wait longer for new TV.

18 hours ago in Music

Peter Cetera turns down Chicago Hall of Fame induction

petercetera

Cetera quit the band in 1985 but fans were hoping for a reunion this spring.