Times Square is the heart of a tourism empire built on acting, so there's nothing inherently wrong with costumed characters wandering the streets in an attempt to make a buck entertaining out-of-towners.

But what happens when Spider-Man suddenly comes off more like a strong-arm shakedown artist than a hungry street actor scrambling for change? Cue the NYPD.

While a certain element of raffishness may be fine at the crossroads of the world, buskers who earn a living making tourists feel queasy and unsafe are not. The drama that erupted last weekend in Times Square is a case in point.

According to police: A uniformed cop sees a costumed Spider-Man taking a picture with a man and woman. The woman hands Spidey a dollar bill. Spidey says he only takes fives, tens or twenties. The cop approaches and tells the woman she can pay the character anything she wants.

Spider-Man, identified as Junior Bishop, 25, of Brooklyn, allegedly curses and slugs the cop. He's put in custody.

Score a victory for tourists and all New Yorkers. Even Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday the problem must stop. Small wonder: The first impression of a place is often what sticks. And for many of our 54 million visitors a year, Times Square is their first taste of New York. Let too many tourists leave the city feeling creeped out by hostile behavior and a crucial part of our economy withers.

The challenge for NYPD Commissioner William Bratton is to enforce the law in a district where unsuspecting visitors roam and no one knows who's inside the costume.

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The best course of action?

First the city should register masked street artists with visible IDs, so when a costumed perp flees, the cops know whom to find. IDs would also give companies holding the rights to these characters a way to keep bad actors out of their costumes.

Second the city should make sure plenty of discerning cops are always in Times Square -- watching the ebb and flow of tourists as they mix with costumed characters. Seeing and hearing an infraction go down is crucial. This is a problem we have to fix. It's not Mickey Mouse stuff.