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NYPD Fliers: You Don't Have To Pay Times Square Characters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD wants you to know that you're under no obligation to pay for photos with the costumed characters in Times Square.

As 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck reported, the Police Department has begun handing out fliers with photos of Mickey Mouse and Elmo hugging on them. They read: "PHOTOS WITH COSTUMED CHARACTERS ARE FREE. TIPPING IS OPTIONAL."

The move comes after a string of incidents in which the characters have allegedly shaken down people in Times Square for money, in many cases demanding $5, $10 or $20 for a picture.

NYPD Fliers: You Don't Have To Pay Times Square Characters

The Times Square Alliance and some elected officials have begun calling for the characters to be regulated.

Despite the fliers, Ernie, a New Yorker, told Schuck he still felt pressured to tip because a sign an Elmo character was wearing was asking for them, but he didn't want to make a big deal about it in front of his 1-year-old child.

He said he felt less pressure from Hello Kitty.

"She didn't shake me down," he said. "Only Elmo did.

"Being from New York, I know that's what they do."

The flier is in five different languages. It reads at the bottom that anyone who has any complaints should talk to a police officer or call 911.

After reading the flier, many tourists decided not to tip.

A woman dressed as Minnie Mouse said she's just trying to make a living.

"That's no good," she said. "They no work for free, right? This is job, you know."

Last month, a man dressed as Spider-Man allegedly punched a police officer in the face after a dispute with a woman over a tip, police said. Four other characters were also arrested the same night for disorderly conduct and aggressive panhandling, police said.

In late June, a different Spider-Man was arrested for allegedly groping a New Yorker. In that same week, a completely different Spider-Man was convicted of harassing a woman in a Times Square spat.

There also have been recent reports of a brawl between two Statues of Liberty and a man dressed as Woody from "Toy Story" allegedly groping women.

In April 2013, a man dressed as Cookie Monster was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after allegedly shoving a 2 1/2-year-old boy.

A bill under City Council consideration would require licenses and background checks for costumed performers, but copyright issues have held up final approval, since most of the costume wearers are not authorized by the characters' owners.

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