Cut the NYPD budget now: We need to save money, and we just don’t need this many cops

Commissioner Dermot Shea and de Blasio should trim costs.
Commissioner Dermot Shea and de Blasio should trim costs.

New York City’s proposed budget for the NYPD is misguided financially as a matter of social policy. With crime at historic lows, a growing chorus of coalitions and organizations is now calling for major reductions in the department’s budget and headcount.
With the onset of stay-at-home orders, there have been significant reductions in crime, all of which come on top of a nearly 30-year trend of crime declines. In April, major crimes fell 28.5% from 2019 despite an uptick in commercial burglaries. Crime dropped in all five boroughs and in housing developments, as well as in the subway system.
But even if crime numbers were to increase, we should not assume that policing is the solution. We need to fund non-punitive strategies to promote public safety and strengthen communities.
Mayor de Blasio’s budget proposal calls for a modest $23.8 million reduction for the NYPD, or less than 0.4%. In contrast, the Department of Education is slated for a 3% cut. City Councilman Donovan Richards, who chairs the Public Safety Committee has proposed $50 million in cost-saving reductions targeting the hiring of new recruits and overtime related to large events that are no longer slated to take place. Those reductions represent less than 1% of the overall NYPD budget and are totally inadequate.

New York City spends more on policing than it does on the Departments of Health, Homeless Services, Housing Preservation and Development, and Youth and Community Development combined. That’s out of whack.

This week The Policing & Social Justice Project, which I coordinate, proposed a $1 billion reduction in the NYPD budget over four years, starting with an immediate $200 million reduction over last year’s budget to be achieved through a hiring freeze and cuts to overtime, as well as withdrawing proposed new funds for school policing ($18 million), the Domain Awareness System ($15.6 million) and police-worn body cameras ($18.8 million).

At the same time, we should look to make new investments in specific initiatives that will contribute to public safety without relying on criminalization such as expanding Cure Violence initiatives, which have proven effective at reducing shootings, creating supportive housing for those living on the streets and in the subways, rather than placing them in overcrowded and dangerous shelters, developing community-based mental health services, rather than relying on police to respond, and expanding counseling and restorative justice services in schools, which are a better way to create safe and effective learning environments.

Surely such cuts will be called radical and irresponsible by some defenders of the department. But the NYPD budget should be seen in the context of historic growth during the administration of de Blasio and the stewardship of the Council. They have expanded the police department budget from $4.6 billion in 2014 to $5.6 billion in 2019, including increasing overtime spending by over $100 million annually from $576 million in 2014 to $728 million in 2019.

When the City Council voted to hire 1,300 more police in 2015, we were told that this was a strategy to reduce overtime. It didn’t work. To get real reductions, we need to scale back on the activities that generate overtime like the over-policing of large events, many of which are likely to be canceled this year, and reducing enforcement of low level quality of life and drug offenses that often seem to occur towards the end of shifts, what has come to be known as “collars for dollars.”

The reduction of the NYPD budget by at least a billion dollars would, in fact, simply reduce the city’s spending on police to 2014 levels. More importantly, these sizable reductions would reduce the fiscal burden on the city in a time of major shortfalls and allow it to prioritize other social services, like youth programming and public health initiatives that will be crucial as New York recovers from COVID-19.

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