Proposed NYPD budget cuts cause distress and skepticism

Shortly after Mayor Eric Adams announced he would freeze hiring within the police department, alarming texts began circulating.

Decorated with red siren emojis and filled with speculation, they warned rank-and-file officers that many of them could be reassigned to patrol and that buyouts and demotions were coming. Police unions have called the proposed cuts a “disaster,” and even rapper Cardi B has weighed in, predicting in a social media video that “Crimes are going to skyrocket.”

Some New York politicians have questioned whether the proposals that made headlines last week were an effort to focus President Biden’s attention on the migrant crisis or whether they were a tactic of negotiation in the annual budget dance with the city council. Many said they found it hard to believe that Mr. Adams, a former police captain who linked his identity to the department, would move forward with the cuts.

“It certainly looks like a deliberate Hail Mary to push Albany and D.C. for more help,” said Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn City Council member who chairs the council’s finance committee.

Monday evening, during a town hall in Coney Island, Brooklyn, the mayor said that the cuts were real but that he did not want to make them. “We are all angry,” he said. “Don’t yell at me. Shout out to DC »

Retired executives say if the city actually implemented its plan to delay five new police officer promotions until 2025, it would hamper units that investigate sex crimes and homicides, further overwhelm detectives who already do facing an overwhelming workload and would force police officers to work overtime and weekends. changes, crushing morale.

Police Commissioner Edward Caban has yet to make a public statement on the implications of a proposal that would bring the number of police officers below 30,000 for the first time in decades. There were nearly 35,000 officers in the department in 2022. In a statement, the police department said it “manages its budget to ensure it is used in a manner that continues to prioritize to public safety.

But within the department, the announcement led many people to say they would consider early retirement.

“The NYPD is on its last legs right now,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “It just adds stress to an already stressful job. Everything makes the situation worse, and the only losers are the townspeople and the victims of the crimes. »

Mr. Adams said the cuts to the city’s $110 billion budget were necessary because of the growing cost of the migrant crisis. All agencies would be affected, including the Department of Education, which would see its budget cut by $1 billion over two years; the Department of Sanitation; city ​​libraries; and popular programs like summer school and universal preschool.

Beyond the migrant crisis, the city faces major budget challenges, including the end of federal pandemic aid and the cost of new labor contracts approved by Mr. Adams, who counts unions among its closest allies.

Mr. Brannan said the City Council plans to consider the budget cuts at a hearing after Thanksgiving. He said he believes the city “can weather this storm without draconian cuts that compromise public safety and our quality of life.”

Mr. Adams said in a television interview the day before announcing the cuts that he would not let a hiring freeze harm his efforts to reduce crime.

“I will not do anything that could impact public safety,” he said.

His spokesman, Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, said Monday that the state and federal government “can help avoid these budget cuts by providing the funding needed to protect these vital city services.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Monday that she is looking for ways to help the city close the budget gap. “The city needs to be safe,” she said. “I will work with the mayor to make sure this is accomplished.”

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has for years accused mayors of increasing the police budget at the expense of other agencies, said migrants have become scapegoats and budget deficits reflect “a failure of leadership.” »

She expressed doubt that the police department would actually be hit hard.

“The NYPD is very good at avoiding cuts,” Ms. Lieberman said. “If the past is only prologue, skepticism is in order.”

James Essig, who retired in September as chief of detectives, said it’s hard to believe the city would freeze classes as the department struggles to recruit and more officers take retire or leave for other agencies.

The new recruits help fill the “two most essential parts of the police department”: the local precinct and the detective teams, he said.

The course freeze would force the department to recruit seasoned officers from specialized units and return them to precincts, he said, and he predicted that veteran officers would retire instead, he said. declared.

In 1970, there were 38,000 police officers — including transit and housing officers — in a city of about 7.8 million people, said Kenneth Corey, former department chief. That number fell to fewer than 30,000 in 1980, according to the Independent Budget Office. The thinning ranks, the result of a financial crisis that led to layoffs and retirements, was followed by one of the city’s worst periods of crime, Mr. Corey said.

Today, the city’s population stands at around 8.3 million and police responsibilities have also increased, he said.

“Police officers assigned to preventing and responding to terrorism are increasingly in demand,” said Mr. Corey. “Can you take them off?” »

Cuts to other city services could worsen the crisis, said Brandon del Pozo, a retired New York police officer and assistant professor at Brown University.

“If you cut mental health services, drug prevention and housing, the cascading effects will definitely impact crime,” he said. “There are so many safety nets that keep people out of prison who are also at risk. »

The city’s budget crisis is real, and its deficit for next year could be higher than the mayor’s estimate of $7 billion, perhaps as much as nearly $10.6 billion, Andrew said Rein, chairman of the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent watchdog.

Sal Albanese, a former city council member and mayoral candidate, said he doesn’t think the budget cuts will influence President Biden, who has a strained relationship with the mayor, because the president has no political need for Mr. Adams. The City Council would likely allow the reductions to take effect and let the mayor take responsibility, he said.

“When you take away quality of life services like police and sanitation, those are important to the city’s tax base,” Mr. Albanese said. “You don’t want people moving because of crime and dirt.”

Political leaders could feel the consequences at the polls, Mr. del Pozo said.

“There is a long history of using police headcounts as a way to game the city budget,” he said. “There is a long history of electoral consequences if you are the one ultimately accused of destroying a police department.”

Chelsia Rose Marciusreports contributed.

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