The plight of topless women around our fair city has been well-documented, thanks to crusading topless activists like Holly Van Voast and Moira Johnston—at this point, you'd think that everyone and their topless mother knows that you can't be arrested for letting your nips taste the spring air in NYC. And yet, there are still some police officers who get confused. But thankfully, the NYPD has been doing their darndest to make things as clear as possible—by repeatedly instructing the 34,000 officers on the force that “simply exposing their breasts in public" is not an actionable offense.
The NY Times found this little bit of information out after boob-baring provocateur Van Voast's sued the city and NYPD for arresting, detaining or giving summonses to her 10 times in the last two years (that includes the time she was carted off to the mental hospital). Officers were read the memo about not arresting topless woman at 10 consecutive roll calls in February; they were told that if a topless person draws a crowd, they are to “give a lawful order to disperse the entire crowd and take enforcement action” against those who do not comply. “Whether the individuals are clothed or not is not a factor in making a determination about whether the above-mentioned crowd conditions exist.”
Van Voast hasn't been arrested since last year, which puzzled her lawyer until he learned about this recent memo: “I was aware that they stopped telling her to put a shirt on, stopped arresting her, stopped carting her off to mental institutions,” Ronald L. Kuby said. “But I was not aware why.”
Officers who wished to remain anonymous confirmed that they had been read the memo, though they couldn't confirm the details around it. While it's obviously made a difference for Van Voast, not everyone has quite understood yet:
Another officer said he could not recall the message being read but said he remembered hearing last summer that “it’s legal to be topless if you’re a man or a woman.”
“I thought you had to have body paint,” said a female officer standing with him.
“No,” the first replied. “You don’t need that.”