NYC Street Vendor Enforcement Back at Pre-Pandemic Levels, Despite Shift Away From NYPD

Adi Talwar

A fruit and vegetable vendor on Jerome Avenue near 182nd Street in the Bronx.

It has been more than a year since the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) took over the street vendor inspection and enforcement functions previously performed by the NYPD—answering the calls of advocates and vendors themselves, who complained for years about police harassment of workers in the largely immigrant-run industry.

But the switch to more civilian oversight hasn’t meant fewer tickets, or less enforcement, data shows: Just in the second half of 2021, DCWP issued 762 tickets to vendors, and doled out another 171 in 2022 as of Feb. 20.

The NYPD continues to issue tickets to street vendors too, especially in the subway, and to make seizures and curb counterfeit brands. Between June and December of last year, the police issued 742 such tickets, only slightly less than the DCWP during the same period, according to the police department’s quarterly reports (police summons numbers for 2022 have not yet been published).

DCWP says it continues to work with NYPD “in areas where illegal vending persists following education and enforcement,” according to a spokesperson. “DCWP is the lead enforcement agency but if a vendor is unlicensed or vending on restricted streets and does not provide ID or leave the restricted area, NYPD will be in the area to assist.”

The numbers are contrary to the thinking about authorities relaxing enforcement during the pandemic, when thousands of workers lost their jobs and many took to the streets to peddle whatever they could. Indeed, after a lull in 2020, the number of tickets issued to street vendors by both departments in 2021 slightly exceeds the number of total tickets issued by the NYPD prior to the COVID-19 crisis: 1,621 tickets last year compared to 1,609 civil and criminal summons issued in 2019.

And it is worth noting that the DCWP—formerly known as the Department of Consumer Affairs, or DCA—only began actively ticketing vendors from June 1 on. During the first half of 2021, the department conducted educational activities with vendors and advocates, developing 30 educational events in popular corridors to disseminate inspection checklists and promote compliance.

In 2021, DCWP received 6,525 complaints about vending, and another 509 complaints this year as of Feb. 20. The most vending complaints were in Manhattan and Brooklyn in both 2021 and 2022 so far, the numbers show. Complaints can come from the general public, community boards, business improvement districts (BIDs), advocates, and elected officials. In the past, concerns around vending have included complaints about trash, the obstruction of sidewalks, and the potential impact on brick-and-mortar small businesses.

Vendors and advocates, however, contend that street vending helps local businesses by boosting neighborhood foot traffic, and say workers in the industry have been subject to unfair enforcement for just trying to earn a living, worsened by a decades-long cap on the number of street vendor permits the city made available, which the City Council finally voted to lift last year.

2021 Complaints
Bronx 425
Brooklyn 1463
Manhattan 3476
queens 972
Staten Island 56
From an undetermined location or outside of NYC 133
** DCWP began actively enforcing vending regulations on June 1, 2021.

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