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CBS2 rides along with NYPD Highway Patrol Unit to see new approach to vendors and panhandlers

Exclusive: CBS2 rides with NYPD as it takes new approach to vendors and panhandlers
Exclusive: CBS2 rides with NYPD as it takes new approach to vendors and panhandlers 02:32

NEW YORK -- The NYPD is cracking down on vendors and panhandlers who stand in the middle of the highways.

CBS2's Ali Bauman rode along for an exclusive look at the operation, and found it did not go as planned.

We see them standing in the middle of the highways, under pouring rain and blazing sun -- women selling fruit and panhandlers asking for money.

The NYPD calls it a growing problem.

"They are obstructing the vehicular traffic, posing a danger to themselves and the motorists," said Inspector Sylvester Ge, commanding officer of the Highway Patrol Unit.

Bauman rode along with the Highway Patrol Unit for what was supposed to be its first joint operation with city social workers to engage vendors and panhandlers on highways.

It's a softer approach, compared to recent incidents when police arrested women in the subway for selling mangoes.

"We can't arrest our way out of these situations. We want to work and see what other options we can bring to the table, other things we can do, collaborate with other agencies and see how we can do to address these issues on the highway," Officer Leedroige Manuel said.

Mayor Eric Adams has made it a point to join police with social workers when they interact with these communities.

But despite this, the both city's Departments of Social Services and Worker Protection were no-shows for the operation, leaving police to carry it out alone.

On the Cross Bronx Expressway, Officer Ronny Valdez spoke to four women selling fruit. He gave them fliers with resources and warned them it is illegal to work out there.

"It's heartbreaking. As a cop, I show my human side first. We all have," Valdez said.

"Because they're just trying to make a living," Bauman said.

"Correct. It's just by doing so, what I explained to them, you don't want to lose your life to make a living," Valdez said.

In Spanish, one of the women told Bauman she works out there because she cannot find another job. She said she does not think it's dangerous, and has not decided if she'll actually listen to the police and stop going out there.

"Do you think it would've been helpful in this case to have had worker protection or homeless services workers that were supposed to be here today?" Bauman asked Valdez.

"Yes, 100 percent," he said.

"What could they have done that you weren't able to?" Bauman asked.

"I would get more concrete information as to where they could go to get a job or to get a job at a safe environment," Valdez said.

Both the departments of Social Services and Worker Protection told CBS2 it missed the operation because of internal scheduling issues, but plan to participate in the future.

The Highway Patrol Unit intends to continue this outreach regularly, and says if it sees the same people out again and again, it will eventually issue summonses.

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