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On the eve of a budget showdown in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that he will cut $1 billion in funding for the New York Police Department in an attempt to meet the demands of protesters who have occupied and marched on City Hall over the past week.
The specifics of his plan, however, are hard to come by, and police reform activists are concerned that the mayor will work with the city council to hide parts of the police budget in mandates for other social services.
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition of over 200 local, statewide, and national organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Legal Aid Society, claimed that de Blasio and council speaker Corey Johnson are using “funny math” and “budget tricks” to get the job done.
“This is a game of musical chairs,” CPR director Joo-Hyun Kang told Fortune. “The demand of our campaign isn’t just to cut $1 billion off the NYPD budget, but to ensure that all of that money is reinvested directly into communities.” Kang noted that proposals floated by de Blasio include things like shifting traffic enforcement away from the police department budget while keeping the program intact.
“The NYPD is clearly protecting the core of the expense budget,” she said. Fringe and pension budgets for officers, she pointed out, aren’t being considered for any cuts and cost the city an additional $5.3 billion on top of the widely publicized $6 billion operating budget.
The group points to a plan, backed by the city council and de Blasio, to take funds from the NYPD for school safety agents and transfer it to the Department of Education as an example of a budget trick. There will still be police in schools, just funded under a different department, the group says.
“NYers marching in our streets for #BlackLivesMatter #DefundNYPD will NOT be satisfied by moving Safety Agents from the NYPD to the @NYCschools budget,” council member Ben Kallos tweeted Sunday.
Still, de Blasio insisted Monday that he would institute real change.
“My office presented to the city council a plan that would achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society,” de Blasio said Monday. He suggested that he would look at police overtime which is “always an area where we want to do better.”
The Mayor’s Office told Fortune that he has proposed a cut to funding for police construction projects. He would use that money to boost the budgets for public housing and youth centers.
In fiscal year 2020, NYPD overtime pay accounted for $635 million, 44% of all overtime spending in the New York City budget. That’s up from $485 million in 2014 despite a reduction in crime.
The widespread practice of arresting people in the last hour of an officer’s shift in order to collect overtime, known as “collars for dollars” has been widely criticized since the 1990s and has grown substantially in recent years. The practice is most widely seen with police who are close to retirement, as officers in New York retire with a pension totaling half of the take-home pay from their last three years on the job.
In fiscal year 2019, the NYPD spent nearly $6 billion, more than any other police force in the country, or about 6% of the city’s total $95 billion in spending.
Budget negotiations come at a time when the city has been rocked economically by the COVID-19 pandemic and must face steep cuts across all services. The current proposal for spending has decreased by $8 billion since January, down to $87 billion from $95.3 billion. The federal government, said the mayor, has been “MIA,” and the state senate has not approved the city’s requests for long-term borrowing.
The budget must be approved by July 1, but fighting among council members about the role the NYPD will play in the future of the city has delayed finalization of the plan.
The movement to defund police has grown as part of an outcry across the country against police brutality after the deaths of Black Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of white officers.