Street Vending Tickets Went Up During First Year of New Enforcement Policy

The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) took over as the main city agency handling street vendor enforcement last June. But the NYPD remains active in enforcement, too. Together, the agencies issued 2,427 tickets to vendors during the year ending in May, a 33 percent increase compared to 2019, when the police alone issued 1,609 tickets.

Daniel Parra

Seated, on the left, the vendor reads the ticket he has just received. On the right, two DCWP agents on Junction Boulevard on July 1.

It doesn’t take much for the street vendors on Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, to spot a Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) agent—who will soon start handing out tickets.

Although the agents are dressed in civilian clothes, they’re identifiable among the crowds of pedestrians for their nonchalant-but-observant demeanor and the electronic tables they carry, vendors say.

On July 1, several vendors in the area were ticketed: a fruit and vegetable seller because she was using more space than allowed; another because her license was expired; a veteran who sells hats and toys because he was not within the required 20 feet away from a nearby store entrance.

There were other vendors who, upon recognizing the agents, did not unpack their wares for fear of receiving a fine.

City Limits has collected data for inspections, complaints and tickets handled by DCWP—formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)—from June 1, 2021, to May 31, 2022, nearly the first full year since the agency took over the main task of vendor enforcement from the NYPD (the switch was officially made in January 2021, but DCWP only actively began issuing tickets in June of last year, having spent the first several months conducting outreach and education instead).

During the first year, DCWP issued almost as many tickets to vendors as numbers reported by the NYPD in the year before the pandemic: 1,463 tickets versus 1,609 in 2019.

But police remain involved in vendor enforcement too, despite former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to take them out of the process in response to years of complaints by the predominantly immigrant vendor workforce, who said they felt harassed and targeted by officers.

Together, the two city agencies issued 2,427 fines to vendors during this most recent 12-month period, a 33 percent increase compared to 2019, when the police alone issued 1,609 tickets. These recent figures do not include the latest police summons numbers for the second quarter of 2022, so the total will be even higher. In July 2021, the number of enforcement staff at DCWP was eight; by October it had grown to 24, remaining the same since.

“The point of moving street vendor enforcement out of the NYPD was to reduce ticketing violations,” said Council Member Shahana Hanif, chair of the immigration committee. “Sadly, we are seeing the opposite play out.”

Jackson Heights was the most ticketed zip code for vendors during the first year of DCWP enforcement, totaling 162 tickets (76 in 2021 and 86 in 2022).

On that first Friday afternoon of July on Roosevelt Avenue, DCWP officers did not approach every single vendor lining the street. Instead, they approached one here and there, including a veteran selling baseball caps, wallets, and small teddy bears.

He later received a ticket for not being 20 feet from the front entrance of a store on Junction Avenue, as required by city rules. Agents on the ground, who used a measuring tape to check the vendor’s compliance, did not comment when a City Limits’ reporter on the scene asked about the agency’s inspection process.

Where the complaints are

In the past, DCWP has argued that enforcement is often a response to complaints—from the general public, elected officials, community boards, and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), which have historically viewed vendors as competition to brick-and-mortar businesses.

However, neighborhoods with the most complaints do not match neatly to those with the most tickets and in some cases, the most inspections. Chelsea, for example, was the center of vending complaints received by the city, with a high of 1,497 during the 12-month period City Limits examined, but vendors there received only 65 tickets during that time. Coney Island, likewise, had the second highest number of complaints in the same time period, but only saw 12 tickets.

In contrast, the DCWP received 257 complaints about vendors in Jackson Heights—less than one-fifth of the number it received about vendors in Chelsea—but doled out 162 tickets there during the first full year of enforcement, positioning the majority-immigrant Queens neighborhood as the most ticketed in this period.

“Summonses,” DCWP spokesperson Abby Lootens said in an email, “are issued when vendors refuse to correct violations and are more commonly issued in areas where vendors repeatedly ignore DCWP inspector instructions.”

But a similar mismatch between where complaints were received and where inspections took place is unfolding in 2022, data shows. With the exception of Chelsea, which is among the top five neighborhoods for both vendor complaints and inspections so far this year, the other zip codes that garnered the most complaints from the public were not the most inspected. Areas most frequently hit by DCWP inspectors during the first five months of the year include immigrant-rich neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Elmhurst and Corona.

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