NEW YORK (AP) — As chants of “defund the police” thunder at protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, New York City’s police commissioner has found himself trying to avoid deep cuts to what has long been among the world’s best-funded law enforcement agencies.
Over the last three months, the coronavirus crisis has dealt an estimated $9.5 billion blow to New York City’s budget, leading some elected officials to peer closely at police department funding.
That scrutiny only intensified as pandemic lockdowns gave way to protests spurred by Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis, with demonstrations in New York marred by looting and violent clashes between officers and demonstrators.
Last Friday, city council leaders joined the city’s elected fiscal watchdog and police reform advocates in calling for $1 billion in cuts to the nearly $6 billion police budget. Among the proposals: slashing overtime, trimming the number of officers from about 36,000 through attrition, and investing some of the savings in social services and communities impacted by police misconduct.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged the need for belt-tightening — but he cautioned against cuts that might compromise public safety.
“I think everyone has to cut. I think we’re going to be forced to do difficult things. We certainly get that,” Shea told the AP. “What concerns me is a moment in time and some rash judgments stepping in and taking the place of some well thought out conversations about how to cut smartly.”
Shea said he is open to giving up some of the ancillary functions the NYPD has taken on over the years, such as school safety and traffic enforcement, which together cost about $500 million, but he balked at proposals to reduce the headcount of uniformed officers and eliminate new recruiting classes at the police academy.
The police department’s budget has ballooned from about $3 billion in 2000 to nearly $5.7 billion in the current fiscal year.
Some of that increase has come from taking over policing functions from other agencies. In the mid-1990s, the department absorbed the city’s then-separate housing and transit police departments. In 1998 it took over school safety functions from the Education Department.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks led to increased spending on special NYPD units, including counterterrorism and intelligence.