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After a Yearslong Battle, NYPD Will Finally Stop Policing Street Food Vendors

The city’s tens of thousands of street vendors will no longer be under the purview of the NYPD

A man is walking away with a plastic bag containing food in front a food truck. Another man stands in the foreground with a mask on his face.
NYC’s street food vendors will no longer be under the purview of the NYPD
Gary He/Eater

In a win for the city’s street vending community, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday that the NYPD would stop issuing tickets to vendors and would no longer oversee enforcement of vendors. In just the last year, the NYPD came under fire for handcuffing a Brooklyn subway churro vendor, and even after the start of the pandemic, the NYPD was still issuing tickets to vendors despite the massive downturn in business.

It’s a step in the right direction, says Mohame Attia, the head of the Street Vendor Project, a nonprofit that counts thousands of vendors among its members.

“This is just the bare minimum of what our community needs,” Attia says. “We have been fighting for this for years now, and this is just the bare minimum.”

But he cautioned against the announcement being seen as a major problem solver for the street vending community. NYPD is just one of the agencies that oversees these vendors, Attia says, and the community still falls under the purview of a variety of other departments, including health, sanitation, and parks, which has only made it harder for street vendors, he argues.

De Blasio also announced Sunday that the city would create a new civilian agency to oversee street vendors, but the mayor’s announcement didn’t make it clear if this agency would then be the only body overseeing vendors.

Street vendors have been pushing for the creation of this body for years now, and a bill introduced in the City Council in 2018 called for it as well. The bill has the support of a number of council members but hasn’t made significant progress since it was announced.

Still, the announcement regarding the NYPD is significant. The agency issued an average of 18,000 tickets per year to street vendors over the past three years, according to research conducted by the Street Vendor Project.

It’s also a victory considering street food vendors’ businesses has been decimated following the start of the pandemic. Many vendors — most of who are low-income immigrants and people of color — had stopped working after the shutdown, and aren’t sure when business will return to anywhere near normal soon.

Vendors are also worried that they may lose their spots as restaurants expand outside for outdoor dining, Attia says. Street vendors are in favor of more outdoor dining for restaurants, he says, but the city needs to guarantee protections for the street vendor community.