NYPD "Operation Character Flaw" Cracks Down On Those Times Square Superheroes

New York City’s latest criminals might look a lot like your favorite childhood superheroes. Like, a lot. If you’ve ever visited or lived in NYC, you’ve undoubtedly been to Times Square and encountered one of the dozens of costumed superheroes and street performers that roam through the crowded streets, offering to pose for photos. Far from innocent, these Times Square superheroes are now the targets of NYPD’s latest crackdown, called “Operation Character Flaw,” which aims to warn tourists away from the “creepy, costumed panhandlers.”

In the past year, dozens of Times Square superheroes have been arrested after aggressively confronting tourists and police officers in tipping disputes. The most notable arrest occurred in late July, when a Spider-Man delivered two punches to a New York police officer's face in the middle of a heated argument over Spider-Man's tipping practices. Some of the other recently arrested mascots include another Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Elmo.

Why are these costumed superheroes even a problem, anyway? Well, the problem isn’t the mascots themselves, but rather that too many of the performers have begun harassing tourists for tips after posing for pictures. The NYPD has taken to the streets, handing out flyers that remind tourists that tipping the mascots is optional and urging them to call 9-1-1 if they have any complaints about their superhero encounters.

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Are the superheroes really all bad, though? Amidst the arrests and complaints, The New York Times published an article that discussed the lives of the men and women behind the masks, revealing that many of the Times Square street performers are undocumented immigrants who can make anywhere from $30 to $200 in an eight-hour work day. The street performers interviewed in the article lamented that the recent arrests have given a bad name to the street performer industry that gives many struggling immigrant families with a source of income.

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Reuters has reported that some of the superheroes are speaking out against the charges, with one Batman impersonator claiming, “the Constitution gives him a right to wear whatever he wants in Times Square,” and complaining that the police are wasting their time policing the Times Square superheroes when real crime persists in the rest of the city. An Elmo imitator reported in an interview that he “never insisted on a tip, and would settle for a child’s smile.”

Well when you put it that way... yeah, it’s still pretty creepy.