We have a crisis of historic proportions. The largest epidemic in 100 years. The largest economic crisis in 100 years. The largest protests in 50 years. The police as the face of systemic racism, now more than ever.
Hundreds of protesters are encamped in New York City’s City Hall Park to demand an immediate reinvention of policing starting with a massive cut to the police budget of $1 billion, which mirrors the NYC Council proposal. The timing is tight; the NYC Council and the Mayor must reach agreement on the City’s budget by July 1. Everyone is watching.
Justice is not the only reason for NYPD budget cuts. New York City faces a staggering potential revenue shortfall of $9.7 billion according to the Independent Budget Office, in what the Citizens Budget Commission calls “New York City’s most significant fiscal crisis in generations.” The budget crisis, as alarming as it sounds, will only get worse, contrary to the Mayor’s projections. This should add fuel to calls to rethink the NYPD budget — and the rest of the NYC budget. The worst is yet to come.
In this post, we offer an independent point of view and recommendations for $1.3 billion in cuts, which should only be the beginning of a transformation of what we think of as policing. As a family project in honor of Juneteenth, my sons Ben Chang and Elliott Chang and niece Maia Greene-Chang contributed research and collaborated on the points of view represented here.
Few are thinking big and holistically enough. In a thoughtful and well-researched report, Communities United for Police Reform calls for over $2 billion in potential cuts. We address their recommendations and suggest others.
Cutting the NYPD budget is unlikely to grow funding for communities; at best, NYPD budget cuts may prevent cuts to other important social programs.
Reinvestment in the same old ways must stop until we figure out the path forward.
Here are some of our additional observations.
● The actual NYPD budget is $12 billion. We need to stop talking about the $6 billion NYPD budget. That’s only “operating budget” and excludes Central Expenses. Under DeBlasio, the annual budget grew nearly $2 billion between 2015 and 2020 (over $1 billion in 2020 dollars). This doesn’t include NYPD lawsuit settlements or capital expenditures.
● The NYPD budget increased as crime decreased. From 1990 at the height of the crack epidemic to 2020, the NYPD operating budget increased a whopping 75% or $2.4 billion. In real 2020 dollars.
● The biggest increases are in non-patrol costs. Civilian headcount has doubled over the past two decades while patrol is within three-decade norms. Costs for Operations (think “Headquarters”), Intelligence/Counterintelligence and Debt Service have increased by two-thirds under DeBlasio.
● Capital expenditures have ballooned. Debt Service for Capex has grown $120 million, from $130 million to $250 million per year under DeBlasio. Of potential interest to protesters, Capex includes nearly $1 billion for new NYPD training facilities; $62 million for ultra-high frequency mobile radio telephone equipment, $30 million for a new firing range; and $18 million for helicopters.
● The funding for the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board is in violation of the City Charter. The CCRB requested 17 investigators to handle skyrocketing police misconduct complaints from the protests, half of the number needed to comply with the City Charter. Even this modest CCRB request was rejected by the Mayor.
“To truly confront problems of racist violence in our society, let’s…start with the question of how to build healthy and safe communities…and see which institutions we need to reach that goal. If anything that is to be called policing emerges from that inquiry, it should be at its end rather than assumed at the outset.”
- Todd May and George Yancy, “Policing is Doing What It Was Meant to Do. That’s the Problem.”
If we agree that the goal is to build healthy and safe communities, we need to stop investing in broken policing models. This translates into reduced spending.
1. New York needs a smaller police department ($700 million).
What is the right level of policing? As crime fell in the 1990s and 2000s, police budgets ballooned. And while the growth of the police force was commensurate with population growth — from 225 New Yorkers per uniformed officer in 1990 to 230 in 2020 — this growth came as the murder rate declined by nearly 90% over the same period, from 30.7 to 3.7 per 100,000 population. In 1990, there were 14.5 officers per murder; in 2020, we have 116. Some have argued that more police lead to decreases in violent crime, but the Brennan Center finds little correlation between increased police headcount and the decline in crime. Other non-policing factors, including economic growth and employment, likely play a greater role. If this is correct, then New Yorkers have vastly overspent for policing.
Furthermore, there was a longstanding tradition of uniformed police doing “desk duty,” thereby keeping them off the street. This reversed thanks to growth in civilian employee headcount, which grew 150% between 1990 and 2020, freeing uniformed police from desk duty to serve on street patrols. But all this civilian help also increased the per-uniform cost 3x from $50,000 to $150,000 (1.7x in 2020 dollars). Reducing uniformed headcount should also lead to commensurate reductions in civilian headcount. We have not accounted for this impact.
Here is how the picture looks nationally:
Considerations of NYPD reductions must include the fact that NYPD jobs are an important component of New York’s middle class. Over 50% of the uniformed personnel are people of color, 75% of whom live in New York City.
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Communities United for Police Reform agree that the NYPD need fewer patrol officers, the former through attrition, the latter through a hiring freeze. Combining the two appear to result in nearly $600 million in savings:
· Stringer: 3% attrition yields $112 million savings in payroll, plus $111 million in fringe benefits. Stringer’s proposal results in a uniformed police headcount of 34,546 in 2021.If continued for four years without additional hiring, uniformed headcount could shrink to 32,026 in 2024, which is smaller than in 1990, at the height of the crack epidemic. If enacted over four years, this would result in potential savings of $892 million, or an additional $669 million in out years.
· Communities United for Police Reform: not hiring the 2,300 new police officers in the budget saves $208.5 million in payroll and $152.1 million in fringe benefits
Communities United for Police Reform also proposes eliminating 500 officers from the NYPD Transit Bureau since the State is funding the hiring of 500 new MTA officers. This could result in a cut of $54.2 million in payroll and $38.7 million in fringe benefits, for a total of $93 million. Instead of eliminating these jobs, transfer these officers to the MTA, preserving jobs and saving money.
Communities United for Police Reform further proposes removing NYPD from social services roles, notably Homeless Outreach and Mental Health Co-Response Teams. Personnel cuts described above could be easily coordinated with pullback from social services roles better served by other agencies.
Communities United for Police Reform also recommends eliminating uniformed school safety officers and moving the $308 million back to the Department of Education (DOE) for additional counseling and mental health resources. Others propose moving the school safety officers to the control of the DOE. And the Mayor is exploring moving traffic cops under the Department of Transportation. While the NYPD Commissioner is open to cuts, it’s also important to recognize the views of traffic cops, which may also extend to school safety officers.
2. Freeze investments that perpetuate the current system of policing (>$95 million).
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for the students of the Police Academy but their training, like the education of millions of students across the country, is being disrupted by forces outside their control. And unlike that being experienced by other students, their disruption may be a necessary part of the path to achieving structural reform.
· Communities United for Police Reform proposes canceling Academy classes ($45.2 million payroll and $41.3 million in fringe benefits) and the Cadet Corps ($9.3 million).
· We also propose freezing the nearly $1 billion for a new training facility in the capital budget until we have a sense of what policing should mean in a world where Black lives truly matter.
Freezing NYPD capital expenditures makes sense. Debt service has grown over 2x since 2010 due to the increase in capital expenditures. Capital expenditures are typically multi-year projects in physical assets like buildings, property improvements, and equipment, funded by debt issued and backed by the City, which incurs interest payment obligations. When capital expenditures grow, so does the cost of debt service.
3. Change the Budget language. The real NYPD Budget is nearly $12 billion, not $6 billion, inviting needed scrutiny ($500 million).
$5.3 billion, an amount nearly equal to the entire NYPD operating budget, consists of Fringe Benefits, Pension Contributions, and Debt Service (discussed above). The single largest growth has been in Fringe Benefits, from $1.8 billion ($1.9 billion in 2020 dollars) to $2.3 billion. Dialing back 50% of the increase since 2015 could result in $250 million saved.
The NYPD budget grew $1.0 billion since 2015 ($700 million in 2020 dollars), the first year of the DeBlasio administration. Setting aside Patrol (discussed in #1 above), the other high-growth line items total $520 million. Cutting these in half produces another $250 million saved.
Communities United for Police Reform points out that another $1.3 billion was paid out in judgments and settlements against the NYPD between 2014–19, approximately $250 million per year. Since New York City is self-insured, these payouts come from the overall City budget and therefore not directly attributed to the NYPD budget. Showing these costs in the context of the NYPD budget will increase transparency and much-needed scrutiny.
4. Make Three Essential Investments
First, invest in the staffing for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (see intro). The Mayor’s Budget calls for flat personnel spending, despite the spike in complaints caused by the protests, out of compliance with the City Charter. Current staffing is 203 workers, below the 236 required under the Charter.
Second, invest in data integration for the benefit of both the public and management. How does the Mayor of the largest U.S. city manage without data? While the City has made great strides in making data sets available via New York City’s Open Data program, data is often not available for time-sensitive analyses, such as the NYC Budget. Further, relevant data is often scattered among disconnected data sets, challenging both citizen and government data analysts to do their own inefficient and non-scalable data analyses via non-automated tools, like Excel.
Finally, the City should double down on CompStat, contrary to the viewpoint of the NYPD captains union. The union may have a point as it relates to arrest quotas since CompStat is used to set arrest quotas in high crime neighborhoods. But when you look at CompStat as a fine-grained visualization of neighborhoods where crime is the expression of other social issues, then it’s inconceivable that this data isn’t used by every City agency in an era where best practices call for coordinated, multi-disciplinary approaches. Perhaps then, and only then, can we think about what policing should be.
The murder of George Floyd unleashed civil unrest throughout the country and world that demanded the demolition of systemic racism that undermines the foundation of America. Proposals for reform range from drastic budget cuts to sudden changes in the responsibilities of the police to abolishing the police altogether. While these proposals aim to limit the symptoms of systemic racism, addressing the root of the problem will require a fundamental re-thinking that must result in a new engagement between communities and government that serves them.
This paper is the creation of three young adults and a dad. Ben Chang attends St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico (class of 2023), and is a graduate of New York’s Grace Church School. Elliott Chang attends Brooklyn Technical High School (class of 2021). Maia Greene-Chang attends the University of Colorado, Boulder (class of 2022) and is a graduate of Bethesda High School in Bethesda, Maryland. Art Chang is the Chair of the School Leadership Team at Brooklyn Technical High School and has spent his career innovating for the public good, including the NYC Campaign Finance Board, CUNY, SEIU, Brooklyn Public Library, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Safe Horizon, NYS Urban Development Corporation, Safe Horizon, and the NYC Corporation Counsel’s Office.