LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas officials announced new steps to tone down aggressive panhandling at the Fremont Street Experience, a downtown tourist corridor filled with street performers and costumed characters who pose for photos in hopes of tips.
Mayor Carolyn Goodman said the city will inform tourists that they aren't obligated to tip performers and people in costume, and will enforce a no-touching rule to keep performers from touching spectators and vice versa.
"We've heard from our visitors and residents loud and clear that they have concern about what they're finding as they visit," Goodman said at a news conference Thursday. "Some of these individuals are nearly nude and others are very aggressive."
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he will increase the number of officers assigned to the area, which includes shops and restaurants below a giant, video-screen canopy. On a typical night, about nine officers patrol Fremont Street.
Gillespie did not detail how many more officers would be in the area, but he said some panhandlers intimidate visitors and increased police presence may reduce that.
"There is an intimidation factor there. I believe (with) a police officer standing in close proximity, there is not going to be that intimidation aspect," Gillespie said.
Authorities must balance visitors' comfort with performers' rights of expression. Allen Lichtenstein of the American Civil Liberties Union said police officers are better equipped to do that than private security guards hired by nearby businesses.
"(Security officers) are not trained, are not told what the law is. (They) kind of make it up as they go along and will harass people they don't want there and who management doesn't want there," Lichtenstein said.
Some visitors told reporters that they enjoy the eclectic mix of costumed characters, musicians and artists who stake out spots on the casino-lined pedestrian mall. But others said the situation is getting out of hand and driving people away.
"So many people coming out here asking for money. It's ridiculous," Kevin Weaver, who owns a business at Fremont Street Experience, told KVVU-TV. "The other day I saw some guy, he was panhandling. Some guy didn't want to give him money, and he started swearing at him and cursing at him. It really scared the guy away."