NYPD officers

SHORT GAME: The NYPD’s operating budget was cut by about $900 million following last-minute discussions between City Council Members and Mayor de Blasio. But some lawmakers and advocates said the trim was nowhere near enough, and accused the administration of playing a budgetary shell game given that nearly half that amount was attributable to the shift of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

At the end of the day, the $1-billion figure was target-rich, but a shot too far. 

Last-minute maneuvering and negotiations between City Council Members and Mayor de Blasio produced a hard-fought consensus and resulted in cuts of just under $900 million, or about 15 percent, to the NYPD’s operating budget. 

They include the cancellation of two full Police Academy classes, one scheduled to begin this month that was to include recruits whose March class was delayed because of the pandemic. By the end of the year, they would have brought 1,163 new cops to the street at a time of increased officer departures from the department. 

'Wanted To Go Deeper'

Both the Council and Mayor de Blasio came in for criticism from “defund” advocates, since roughly half of the trim to the department’s budget was attributable to a bookkeeping maneuver with the transfer next July of School Safety Agents from under the NYPD’s administrative umbrella to that of the Department of Education.

Several Council Members, including Speaker Corey Johnson, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also said the cuts did not go far enough. 

“This isn’t a billion dollars and I'm not going to pretend that it is,” the Speaker said during a press teleconference hours before the full Council passed the budget June 30. “I wanted us to go deeper. I wanted larger headcount reductions. I wanted a real hiring freeze, but this budget process involves this Mayor, who was not budging.”

Mr. Johnson said he had sought the annulment of four full academy classes.

He said Mr. de Blasio had missed an opportunity to remake what law enforcement in New York City can look like. “I’m not a police abolitionist, but I do think that this moment is about rethinking and re-envisioning what public safety looks like,” the Speaker said. 

Among the other savings are a reduction in the overtime budget and a deferment of some capital projects. 

Where Money Will Go

The savings returned funds to education, housing and programs for youths and older adults, among others.  

“These are the programs that we spent years building up and these are the programs we need right now to help us move forward from COVID,” Mr. Johnson said. 

In contrast to the Speaker, Mr. de Blasio said negotiations had been “very productive.” He also stuck to the $1-billion figure. 

“I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform, that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time ensure that we keep our city safe, and we make sure that our officers are on patrol where we need them around this city,” the Mayor said June 30. “So, that's something that I think is so important for the future, to strike that balance the right way: reform, justice, redistribution, but always safety.”

'Undoing Good Work'

The Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, referenced the spike in city shootings, murders and other violent crimes in assailing the cuts to the department. 

“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. Even right now, the NYPD doesn’t have enough staffing 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.”

During a comparatively bloody four-week period ending June 21, 34 people were murdered--11 more than were killed during the same period last year. And the 191 people who were shot during that 28-day span was twice the 95 shot last year. 

Councilman Joe Borelli, a Republican who represents portions of Staten Island and voted against the budget, said the cuts to the NYPD augur poorly for public safety. 

'Creates More-Violent City'

“We know what we’re doing and we know what we’re doing will create a more violent city,” he said, adding that the cuts are designed “to appease a fraction of far-left New Yorkers” but will result in slower response times, more illegal guns and fewer investigations, and undo “three decades of good work.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Williams, the Public Advocate, also citing a missed opportunity, threatened to derail the budget deal by saying he would essentially veto the spending bill by declining to sign off on property-tax collections, a statutory requirement that falls to his office, if the budget did not include a hiring freeze at the department. 

“If we’re not hiring additional guidance counselors and restorative-justice coordinators, things of that nature in the schools, why are we hiring NYPD officers?” he said during a press conference, referring to a police class that is scheduled to enter the Academy in October. 

The following morning, the Mayor, who served a term as Public Advocate, said he believed Mr. Williams was misinterpreting the statute regarding property-tax collections, and that this opinion was shared by the city Law Department.

The Public Advocate also wanted a commitment from the administration that a discussion would begin on how to institute a restorative-justice model in city schools. 

But Mr. Williams also said he would be of two minds about any layoffs at the department, given that recent academy classes have been increasingly made up of black, Latino and Asian graduates who would be the first to lose their jobs because they have the least seniority. 

Tune in Next Year

Including centrally allocated expenses, such as pensions, fringe benefits and other costs, the police budget came in at just under $11 billion in the fiscal year that concluded June 30, according to the Citizens Budget Commission. That figure was by far the most a city spent on policing, with Chicago’s roughly $1.8 billion being the next-highest total, according to the Vera Institute for Justice.

But that total represented about 8 percent of city funds, much lower than in cities such as Baltimore (where spending on police totaled 26 percent), Chicago (37 percent), Houston (36 percent) and Los Angeles (33 percent).

Per resident, however, the city spent $626 on police. Only Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Newark among large cities spent more. 

Laurie Cumbo, the Council’s Majority Leader, said the time was right to re-prioritize that allocation. Both she and Mr. Johnson said this budget cycle represented just the start of what will be a long conversation about the NYPD's future role and composition.

“This discussion is bigger than $1 billion," she said. “This is a marathon discussion; this is not a sprint, this is not a hashtag. This is real work...It will not happen in one budget cycle.”

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