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Cops vs. costumes: City upping ante on aggressive Boardwalk panhandlers

On notice: More cops are coming to Coney Island this summer to crack down on costume characters who are too aggressive with tourists.
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Boardwalk cops are coming to clean up Sponge Bob.

Coney Island is getting 20 more police officers this summer to combat pushy costume characters who hassle passersby for tip-for-tap selfies, Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) told this paper. The aluminum foil Iron Men and slushy-at-best “Frozen” characters migrated to the Boardwalk last summer after the mayor cracked down on them in Manhattan for hassling Times Square tourists for tips, so the additional enforcement is welcome, one local leader said.

“Once they got their foot in the door, the performers were prevalent throughout the area — everybody and their brother was Mickey Mouse or whoever,” said Community Board 13 chairman Stephen Moran. “We can always use more law enforcement in our community, and I’m thankful to the [elected officials] who put this together.”

Treyger and Borough President Adams needled the mayor’s office over the summer for addressing the issue in Manhattan but not The People’s Playground.

In response, Mayor DeBlasio created a task force to look into the problem.

The temporary officers are part of the police department’s “summer detail” — when officials send additional cops from other precincts to police the wave of people that washes over the Boardwalk and amusement district. This year’s boost brings the total number of additional summer cops to 84, officials said.

The 20 extra officers will likely be spread over several shifts and may translate to about five additional lawmen walking the Boardwalk at any given time, a police source said.

It is illegal to demand money for taking a picture of someone in a public place, but beach-goers complained costumed pan-handlers were doing just that last summer.

The Department of Consumer Affairs will also hand out leaflets apprising tourists they don’t have to tip for photos, Treyger said.

The Boardwalk is park land, and the Parks Department is collaborating with the police on where it will station additional Parks Enforcement Patrol officers this summer, Treyger said. The rangers should take amusement-area pressure off the cops and let them patrol the rest of the 60th Precinct, where residents last year clamored for the city to invest more resources outside the amusement district amid a spate of late-summer gun violence, he said.

“The more PEP officers we have assigned on the boardwalk, the more NYPD officers we can position to serve the residential areas,” Treyger said. “We shouldn’t really have NYPD dealing with Batman and the Joker on the Boardwalk, and that’s just a matter of putting a PEP officer there.”

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.
Updated 1:58 pm, January 11, 2016
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