New York City Council Shifts $1 Billion From Police Department Budget

Since the killing of George Floyd, thousands of activists have been calling for changes to police department budgets. (Courthouse News photo / Josh Russell)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Anticipating a $9 billion shortfall from lost revenue evaporated by the coronavirus shutdown, New York City lawmakers announced Tuesday that they had negotiated an austerity deal that shifts $1 billion away from the police department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, a nationwide movement of organized protests against systemic racism have demanded that cities restructure police department funding, with thousands of activists in New York City calling daily to reform the NYPD’s discriminatory policing by stripping $1 billion away from the department’s $6 billion budget.

According to the City Council on Tuesday, the agreed-upon Fiscal Year 2021 Adopted Budget includes $837 million in cuts and transfers to the New York Police Department expense budget and cancels two NYPD academy classes of more than 1,100 new cadets this summer.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said separately on Tuesday that the cuts and transfers, combined with associated costs, remove $1 billion from the NYPD’s spending but advocates of police department “defunding” claim the budget cuts amount to meaningless shell games instead of a substantive divestment from policing to preserve the social safety net.

The reduction of the NYPD’s spending budget is comprised of nearly $484 million in cuts and $354 million in reassignments of duties previously assigned to the NYPD — school safety, homelessness and mental health —  to other agencies, including the Department of Education New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Homeland Security.

The budget also eliminates two of the four NYPD academy classes this year, purportedly reducing the headcount of the city’s 38,000 officers by 1,163 uniform officers.

De Blasio said Tuesday that the budget transfers $450 million from the NYPD capital spending to the New York City Housing Authority and Parks Department youth recreation centers.

The mayor also announced the budget will reinvest $430 million of those NYPD cuts into community initiatives: $115 million for summer youth programs, $116 million to education, and $134 million for family and social services.

Initially, de Blasio’s 2021 executive budget had proposed entirely cutting the city’s Summer Youth Programming, which serves 100,000 young people.

The adopted budget shifts funding for school policing from the NYPD’s School Safety Division to the Department of Education, ending a zero-tolerance plan implemented by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani that put the police department in charge of school safety. 

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement’s demands for at least $1B in direct cuts to the NYPD’s almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities,” Anthonine Pierre, spokesperson for the grassroots organizing group Communities United for Police Reform, said in a statement Monday.

“This is a lie and the movement isn’t falling for de Blasio and Johnson’s budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers — all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence,” Pierre added.

Members of Communities United for Police Reform have called for deep NYPD budget cuts, and a redirection of resources toward underfunded city agencies that will need to play a large role in driving an equitable recovery for New Yorkers hit hardest by Covid-19 global pandemic.

According to the City Council, the new agreement includes “a commitment to working with stakeholders, school administrators, advocates and school safety officers to move toward a community model and away from a punitive, enforcement-focused model.”

The budget also includes a reduction in the NYPD’s overtime spending by $352 million and institutes strict oversight on overtime limits.  

At a press conference on Tuesday, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said last year the NYPD spent $700 million on overtime, $100 million over the allotted budget of $600 million.

Johnson apologized to reform advocates who expected deeper cuts to the police department’s budget.

“To everyone who is disappointed we did not go farther, I am disappointed as well,” Johnson said. “I wanted us to go deeper. I wanted larger headcount reductions, I wanted a real hiring freeze. But this budget process involves the mayor, who is not budging.”

At the city’s council’s budget hearing late Tuesday evening, Johnson said the city needs financial help from the state and the federal government, along with an increased tax on the rich.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the eastern part of the Bronx and portions of north-central Queens, called the cuts a “disingenuous illusion”.

“Defunding police means defunding police. It does not mean budget tricks or funny math,” Cortez said in a statement Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so that the exact same police remain in schools.’

Maya Wiley, a former board chair of the NYPD’s independent police oversight board, NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board, said the deal is not actually a cut that defunds the police but rather “it’s moving the deck chairs around.”

“We have to stop tinkering and start transforming public safety,” Wiley tweeted Tuesday. “It requires school social workers, mental health svcs, housing= problem-solving, not policing human needs.”

Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who voted “no” on the budget on Tuesday, objected to the slow rollout of reallocating the School Safety budget from the police department.

“Moving school safety out of the NYPD to the DOE is a good thing but it’s over two years and nothing changes immediately for students feeling over policed and criminalized in schools,” Van Bramer wrote in a statement. “And it’s not a cut. We should have gone much further and invested more in education & programs that build up communities.”

Vocal NYC, one of the grassroots organizations calling for the defunding of the NYPD, urged councilmembers on Tuesday to vote against any budget proposal that continues to cut social safety net and crucial programs while protecting NYPD Core expense budget or does not include a full hiring freeze on NYPD officers.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of one of the city’s largest police unions, the Police Benevolent Association President, said the city’s budget cuts and progressive messaging will lead to a surge in street crime. “Mayor de Blasio’s message to New Yorkers today was clear: you will have fewer cops on your streets. Shootings more than doubled again last week,” Lynch said in a statement Monday evening. “Even right now, the NYPD doesn’t have enough manpower to shift cops to one neighborhood without making another neighborhood less safe. We will say it again: the Mayor and the City Council have surrendered the city to lawlessness. Things won’t improve until New Yorkers hold them responsible.”

Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association union, told Courthouse News that the new budget, in addition to recent laws restricting officer conduct, will have “a devastating effect” on the department.

“They should be putting more money into the police budget to train the police how to conform to these new laws that they’re going to have work under,” the detective union president said Tuesday.

The budget will also transfer crossing guards and homeless outreach responsibilities from the NYPD to other departments. DiGiacomo said the NYPD ran those agencies efficiently after their previous bureaus “failed the people of this city tremendously.”

Reiterating the PBA’s president’s sense of foreboding, DiGiacomo reflected on lawlessness taking over parts of the city.

“The guns are on the street, the shootings are out of control. People are getting shot every day,” he said. “The silence by our elected officials are deafening — not one word out of our government, out of our assembly, out of our senate, our city council, our mayor. Everyone is silent and it’s a shame because if these shootings were in other neighborhoods, would they be as silent as they are now?”

According to the NYPD, the city has seen a spike in violent crimes and shootings in June that included 112 victims in 83 shootings over a nine-day period ending last Saturday. 

Two weeks ago, the city announced it had disbanded the undercover, plainclothes anti-crime unit. 

A 32-vote majority of the 51-member chamber voted “yes” on the operating budget shortly after midnight as the City Council’s budget hearing dragged into Wednesday morning. 

The Justice Committee, a grassroots civil rights group, said the majority vote in favor of the budget prioritized the interests of the NYPD over those of New York City communities.

“The City Council’s budget vote today was a racial and economic justice litmus test and we now have the results. We commend the councilmembers who voted NO on the FY21 City budget and its fake NYPD budget cuts for standing with families who have lost loved ones to police, Black, Latinx and other New Yorkers of color, and the movement,” co-director Loyda Colon said in a statement Tuesday night.  “All others, including Speaker Corey Johnson, as well as Mayor de Blasio, have demonstrated that they do not value Black and Brown lives and that their priorities are, instead, their own political ambitions and allegiance to the NYPD.”

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