Bill de Blasio vows to boost social services and cut police budget amid calls to defund NYPD

“People . . . protest to achieve change, and now we must deliver that change," de Blasio says

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 8, 2020 6:25PM (EDT)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday vowed to shift funding from the city's police department to social services amid growing calls for cities to defund their police forces.

De Blasio announced a series of police reforms on the same day that the Minneapolis City Council announced plans to disband its police department after the failure of previous reforms. De Blasio will take a less aggressive approach, shifting some funding away from the New York Police Department to community programs and youth services. He vowed that the cuts would not compromise the safety of New Yorkers.

"Policing matters for sure, but the investments in our youth are foundational," de Blasio said. "We will be moving funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services."

The comments came only two days after the mayor told reporters on Friday that he did "not believe it's a good idea to reduce the budget of the agency that's here to keep us safe."

De Blasio said the city would move enforcement of street vendors to a civilian agency and add community ambassadors to serve as liaisons between members of the community and the police. He also called to repeal a law which prevents officers' disciplinary records from being released to the public.

"Civilians deeply steeped in their communities with the ability to bring the concerns of the community to the highest levels of the NYPD — to bring back answers, including the status on disciplinary cases and changes in policing that needs to be done to allow better policing, fairer policing," de Blasio said. "People did not protest for the sake of protest. They protest to achieve change, and now we must deliver that change."

De Blasio did not say how much he intends to cut from the NYPD budget, which has swelled to $6 billion per year.

"The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead," the mayor said. "But I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people."

De Blasio's announcement came after City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for significant cuts to the NYPD budget.

"Given the scale of the financial crisis we face and the urgent need for the city to transform our criminal justice system, we know the budget will include meaningful cuts to the NYPD budget," he said last week. "I am working with my colleagues to determine how we can reduce the budget and reallocate those dollars to instead invest in our communities, but this is not just about budget cuts. We also need structural change and transformational reform in the police department, while investing in communities as much as possible during this unprecedented budget crunch."

Police unions have tried to push back on the growing calls to slash police funding.

"Our work to keep people safe – at any cost – is being drowned out by calls to defund police departments and arrest officers based on a few seconds of video on social media," NYPD Detectives Union President Paul DiGiacomo said in a statement. "There is ZERO BACKING for the men and women in blue by our elected officials. Their decisions are based on appeasing the loudest anti-police protesters instead of fact."

De Blasio on Sunday hit back by pointing out that police unions "have held back progress" on meaningful reforms. His shift on police funding came after he was criticized by employees of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, who called for him to back aggressive police reforms. Hundreds of de Blasio's current and former staffers also signed a letter demanding that he slash police funding by $1 billion. Thousands of protesters in New York and around the country have called to defund the police, as well.

At the same time, some activists were skeptical after de Blasio's reversal.

"I hope he's not trying to make it seem as if that was his calling," Anthony Beckford, the president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, told The New York Times. "That was basically one of our major demands — one of many — but we were specific on numbers."

"He's trying to thread this needle where he can sound like he's meeting the demands and not actually do it," Anthonine Pierre, the deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, added.

Ed Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association union, told the outlet that he was also skeptical.

"I know he just recently said that he wasn't going to do that," he said. "I guess, let's see what he says on Monday and what his next decision is going to be."

The proposal comes as cities grapple with mounting calls to slash police funding on the heels of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and hundreds of instances of brutality at the protests over his death. Cities like Camden, N.J., have seen success after dismantling their police departments.

A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council on Sunday said they will disband the police department, The Appeal first reported. The news came only one day after Mayor Jacob Frey was booed by protesters for opposing such a move.

"Here in Minneapolis and in cities across the United States, it is clear that our existing system of policing and public safety is not keeping our communities safe," Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender said Sunday. "Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period."

Other lawmakers have pushed back on the calls to cut police funding.

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told CNN on Sunday that she does not believe "that you should disband police departments," but "we need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities."

De Blasio vowed that Sunday's announcement was only the beginning for New York.

"I want it to be abundantly clear to all New Yorkers. These are first steps in what will be 18 months of making intense change in this city," he said. "This is a transformative moment."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Bill De Blasion Black Lives Matter George Floyd Minneapolis New York Nypd Politics