NYC Budget Vote Looms as Protests Push for $1B Cut to Police

Handmade signs and barricades outside City Hall, Friday, June 26, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

New York City lawmakers were set to vote Tuesday on a high-stakes budget as activists demand a $1 billion shift from policing to social services and the city grapples with multibillion-dollar losses because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he and City Council leaders had agreed on a budget that shifts $1 billion away from the New York Police Department.

But activists have been wary, saying they feared the city was just moving money around rather than really cutting emphasis on policing. They have pressed council members to vote no if the spending plan does not make meaningful changes.

The council was set to debate it Tuesday night, with a midnight deadline to pass a budget ahead of the fiscal year that begins Wednesday.

It comes with protesters camped outside City Hall insisting that the city slash $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s budget amid a nationwide campaign to “defund” police — a movement animated by outrage over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police.

Protesters want money moved from policing to community and social programs, saying the change would advance racial justice and curb a police force that the activists say has been given too much power.

Under the plan Mayor de Blasio described Tuesday, cuts would come from canceling a nearly 1,200-person recruiting class set for next month — though another class in October is scheduled to go forward — as well as slashing overtime spending, redeploying officers from administrative functions to sustain patrol levels and moving responsibility for school crossing guards and some homeless outreach from police to other city agencies.

The police department also would give up control over public school security, which the NYPD took over from the Department of Education in 1998. The city has about 5,300 civilian school safety agents. De Blasio said details of the move were being worked out, but the Education Department would train the agents.

Money would go instead to education, social services in communities hit hard by the virus, and summer youth programming for over 100,000 young people.

Other cuts are being made to the NYPD’s capital budget, including cancelling plans to build a new police precinct in Jamaica, Queens, and instead using the money to build a community center nearby. The city is also planning to shift some police capital funding to install broadband internet in public housing complexes.

“We’re acting on that call for justice. I believe it is our mission to redistribute resources to those who need them the most,” the Democratic mayor said at a news conference, while vowing that the changes would not compromise public safety.

“We all understand that we have to answer the concerns of this moment, that people want to see our society progress,” he said.

Activists, however, have said they won’t accept any plan that merely shuffles dollars around without making what they see as a real difference.

“No funny math. No budget musical chairs,” relatives of more than a dozen people killed by NYPD officers said in a letter Tuesday to the mayor and council. “We’ll know if you fought for our communities or whether you will let the NYPD continue to be treated as if they’re above the law, even in the budget.”

The NYPD budget is now around $6 billion, plus several billion dollars more in shared city expenses such as pensions.

The new plan calls for ambitious cuts in police overtime in the nation’s biggest city, where major events, terror alerts, weather disasters and other matters can put officers on overtime. The department paid out $115 million in overtime just during recent protests over Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis.

The focus of the cuts is day-to-day overtime, such as extra pay officers rack up for testifying in court or completing paperwork. De Blasio said the city would make adjustments in the event of a catastrophe that required added policing, and he said the proposed cuts would not undermine the NYPD’s counterterrorism capacity.

The discussion comes as the city has been grappling with what de Blasio has pegged as a $9 billion revenue loss because of the coronavirus.

The city budget totaled nearly $93 billion when passed last June. Before the virus hit, de Blasio proposed a more than $95 billion spending plan for the budget year that starts Wednesday.

Instead, the proposal now totals about $88 billion, he said.

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