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NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police are cracking down on break-dancing subway performers as part of a quality of life campaign on behalf of the city's 5.5 million daily passengers.
So far this year 46 subway dancers have been arrested and charged with reckless endangerment, an NYPD spokesman said on Wednesday.
The spokesman, Officer George Tsourovakas, declined to provide similar year-to-date figures for 2013. NBC New York reported on Tuesday that only two break dancers were charged with reckless endangerment last year.
Arrests of subway panhandlers have also skyrocketed, with 371 arrests so far this year compared with 100 at this time last year, Tsourovakas said.
The break dancers are usually a group of young men who crank up the music on a portable stereo and perform acrobatics using all available space in a subway car, including the subway bars above riders' heads. They make money from tips they get from riders.
The dance routines, originally referred to as b-boying or break-boying, originated in New York City in the 1970s and have since taken off worldwide.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said city subway riders deserve "to expect a ride that's hassle-free," NBC New York reported on Tuesday. "Those activities create a sense of fear, or that we're not paying attention to disorder. We are paying attention to disorder."
Earlier this year the New York City Transit Authority began forwarding subway riders' emailed complaints directly to the NYPD, which has been dispatching officers to investigate in real time.
Gabriel Alvarez, a break dancer from Queens, New York, said his crew's subway performances have been shut down by New York police twice in the past two months.
"I've had friends that were literally shut down and chased through the subways," Alvarez, 24, said on Wednesday.
A crew of five or more break dancers who spend the day dancing through the subway system can make about $100 each, he said.
Alvarez challenged the notion that the crackdown was based on rider complaints.
"I've never gotten a complaint," he said. "If people don't like it they just keep on walking. When the police shut us down, people actually get upset. They boo."
Ronel Sanchez, 23, who has tipped break dancers she encounters on her journeys a handful of times, believes the arrests are excessive.
"The police should leave them alone. They don't harm anyone, and they're the ones more in danger with the moves they're doing," she said.
Megan Morgan, 20, had less sympathy. Although she sees dancers perform on the subway about once a week, she never tips.
"Even though I get what they are trying to do, they usually come during rush hour, and it's not the right time or place," she said.
Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Chris Francescani; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Prudence Crowther