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The NYPD is already too big, so cut its budget: What are New Yorkers getting from spending $29 million daily on cops?

By: Donna Lieberman Executive Director

Budgets are moral documents, and when it comes to New York City’s fiscal blueprint, the budget is also an opportunity to imagine the city we want to build. As Mayor Adams and the City Council negotiate a final budget next month, the mayor’s latest offer lacks imagination.

Adams’ executive budget sees the NYPD as the driving solution for too many of our city’s most pressing needs. His budget fails to take a proactive approach to public safety, and includes cuts that would make life worse for New Yorkers.

Imagine a city where everyone has access to health and child care, a comfortable home, a good paying job, a well-resourced school, a park to visit and a library to browse. Unfortunately, Adams’ budget puts many of these essentials further out of reach. It cuts funding for education, housing, health care, youth development, parks, and libraries.

One of the only agencies to escape unscathed in the mayor’s budget is the NYPD, the largest police department in the country, costing taxpayers a staggering $29 million a day.

That price tag doesn’t include overruns on the NYPD’s overtime budget, which it has blown through by nearly $100 million, while officers brag about milking OT on taxpayers’ dime. The NYPD also spends millions a year on units like the abusive and unnecessary Strategic Response Group. The SRG is on the frontlines of attacking peaceful protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

When the department is sued because of abuse by SRG members or other officers, it’s not those in uniform who pay. Taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars in annual payouts because of NYPD misconduct.

You might think $11 billion could buy you a lot, but when the city shells it out for the NYPD, it doesn’t get us accountability. Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell either dismissed or changed disciplinary recommendations from the Civilian Complaint Review Board at least 425 times, accounting for more than half of the cases she reviewed.

Of course, in order for any of us to thrive, we have to be safe. But that doesn’t mean we have to rely on police to solve all our problems. There are more effective ways to promote public safety that don’t involve law enforcement and can actually prevent crimes before they happen. These proven solutions include violence interrupters, summer youth employment programs, and eviction prevention measures. To the mayor’s credit, he funds many of these programs but they are dwarfed by what the city spends on the NYPD.

We have to break out of police-first problem solving. We must reimagine what it means to create a truly safe, connected and thriving city.

Picture a city where people get the mental health care they need, where mental health experts take the lead when responding to people in crisis. Yet the mayor has given NYPD officers the constitutionally-dubious task of detaining and forcibly hospitalizing people with perceived mental illness.

Police officers are not mental health care experts, but that’s the job they’ve been asked to do. When people with untreated mental illness experience a crisis, NYPD officers are often first on the scene, with tragic results. Adams does include more funding for people in crisis, but he must do more.

Dream up a city where everyone has a place to live. We need real solutions to create affordable housing and to keep people in their homes. We’re in the midst of a housing crisis, and NYPD officers are tasked with sweeping the New Yorkers most impacted by it off the streets and out of sight.

Visualize a school system where students are safe and well cared for. We need schools with enough teachers, counselors, mental health professionals and nurses to make this a reality. Instead we have understaffed schools, and close to 4,000 officers roaming the halls. These officers make it more likely Black and Brown students will get arrested instead of receiving the support they need.

City leaders have been relying on police to fix so many of our city’s challenges for so long that it can be hard to see another way.

That’s why the New York Civil Liberties Union has created the Museum of Broken Window’s 29 Million Dreams exhibition, a free pop-up art museum running until Saturday in Soho. The museum invites all New Yorkers to explore the dreams we defer by spending $29 million each day asking policing to solve too many of our problems.

As the mayor and Council negotiate the budget, they should visit the exhibit, imagine a new vision for public safety, and make New Yorkers’ dreams reality. We can’t afford more of the same.

Originally published in New York Daily News

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