Advocates, Pols to Mayor: Defund the NYPD Now

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea looming over his boss in a file photo.
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea looming over his boss in a file photo.

It was fitting that Mayor de Blasio quoted Bob Dylan on Sunday that “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” because the wind is definitely blowing — and its a gale force storm howling against this mayor’s continued financing of a “military organization” that “empowers police over communities of color,” advocates said on Monday.

Multiple officials called for the NYPD budget — which was virtually untouched in the mayor’s first post-COVID financial agenda — to be slashed, much as budgets for critical social services such as the department of Youth and Community Development, Transportation and Education were cut significantly (even to beloved mayoral initiatives, such as a reckless driver crackdown).

Bronx/Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke generally to the outrage of seeing police officers behaving violently to quell protests over police brutality and the killings of unarmed black men, most recently George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“If police budgets bought peace, the $6 billion NYPD budget would’ve bought the most sophisticated de-escalatory operation in the world,” she tweeted on Monday. “Clearly, it didn’t.”

Locally, Council Member Danny Dromm, who chairs the Finance Committee that oversees the budget, called for the NYPD to be cut significantly. Dromm was raising that question even before this weekend’s events, which he said only exposed the NYPD’s flaws and the need for budget cuts.

“It’s become a military organization and that’s not the same as police,” said Dromm, who had tweeted, “Do you believe this shit?” after Police Commissioner Dermot Shea defended his cops’ use of violent force. “The two areas that I want to look at are the next class of cadets, which I don’t think we need, and the overtime budget, which is out of control. It’s like $700 million. Why are they budgeting so much for overtime in a period when we have no parades, no festivals?” [The agency has said it will cut $24 million from overtime — a 3-percent trim.]

Dromm’s council colleague Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn called for an NYPD hiring freeze as part of an effort to reform a “system that criminalizes and murders people of color … where economic opportunity is deeply tied to the color of your skin.”

“We elected Bill de Blasio in 2013 on a platform of police reform,” Reynoso said. “The mayor has lost control of the NYPD and he has lost the trust and faith of the people. … We need a hiring freeze at the NYPD and we need to rescind the 1,297-officer increase the Council approved in 2015. We need to stop sending police to protests — they are an antagonizing presence and only serve to reinforce that those in power do not understand the pain and anger washing over our city.”

To Riders Alliance Executive Director Betsy Plum, the issue of police funding is about “accountability and standing in solidarity against police violence.”

“Mayor de Blasio’s police department responded with destructive force, threatening vast numbers of protesters’ lives,” she said referring to the protest over the killing of Floyd, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and others by police. “As the city reopens, Mayor de Blasio must revise his budget. He should cut police resources, which have remained untouched despite an extreme deficit, and invest instead in equity and public health.”

She singled out such program as the mayor’s own Better Buses Initiative, which was cut despite the fact that it “puts bus riders first” and “helps reduce air pollution that worsens respiratory illnesses like COVID.”

She also connected the bloated NYPD budget to the pennies that are allocated to help address systemic inequality in transportation.

“Bus lane installation improve[s] access and mobility, primarily for low-income people of color, many of whom are essential workers,” she said. “Cutting programs like the Summer Youth Employment Program and countless other social, environmental, and educational supports while leaving a tremendous NYPD budget whole does not leave our city safer or more equipped to recover. It allows criminalization of black and brown communities to continue, and sacrifice the true investments that lead to community safety and belonging.”

Council Member Adrienne Adams of Queens staked out similar territory.

“What does it say about our values when we are presented with a proposed budget that includes significant cuts to social services and youth programs while protecting the NYPD budget?” asked Adams. “The proposed budget would cause a ripple effect in our city and create a perfect storm to further criminalize young people of color.”

Dromm’s position as head of the committee that oversees the budget gives him the proper perch, but the NYPD keeps cutting off the limb, he said.

“It is impossible to get information from the NYPD, even for us,” he said. “Our information is basically what they tell us.”

Dromm cited an exchange with NYPD Commissioner Shea during a budget hearing in mid-May [our coverage]. Shea had just testified that there was a connection between last year’s bail reform initiative and an increase in crime in the early part of the year, when the reforms took effect.

Dromm demanded statistical corroboration of the alleged link between bail reform and crime. Shea said he would provide it. He has not, Dromm said.

“If you listen to the tape, I was very upset at them making a statement without stats to back it up,” Dromm said. “I still haven’t gotten it yet. It is often difficult even for us who have oversight of the NYPD to get information from them.” He said the lack of information includes details about how many vehicles the NYPD has and how it uses those vehicles.

“They won’t talk to us about how cops are deployed,” either, he said.

Dromm blamed de Blasio, who was elected as an NYPD reformer but has become, “more protective of the NYPD.”

“Just look at the budget — it cuts the NYPD about 0.4 percent and cuts Youth and Community Development 32 percent,” Dromm said. “He talks about programs to cure violence, the alternatives-to-incarceration programs, but they cut 32 percent of that budget. The reality is they talk the talk, but they don’t take action to reform the department.”

The Council, he said, would try to exercise its power over the budget.

“We need to look at where can we make cuts at a time when crime is at its lowest,” he said.

Mayor de Blasio has long defended the NYPD budget, as he did recently.

“We’re not veering away from a strategy that’s worked, we’re the safest big city in America for a reason,” he said on May 15. “We’re not going to move away from strategies that have been effective.”