NYC Public Advocate Calls For Renewed Accountability, Reallocated Spending In City’s Public Safety Budgeting

March 20th, 2023

Press Release

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today called for a city budget that invests in public safety services and infrastructure beyond simply law enforcement, and emphasized the need to strengthen accountability and oversight through the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and other efforts. In a statement prepared and submitted to the City Council Committee on Public Safety, he urged a holistic approach to protecting and producing public safety.

“Typically, I would be asking the City Council for more funds to bolster and expand the vital services that our city’s agencies provide to millions of New Yorkers every day,” opened Public Advocate Williams. “In the case of the NYPD, however, it is more appropriate to pinpoint where portions of their budget are better served being reallocated to other agencies. The NYPD is by far the biggest and most expensive police department in the country, and serves social service functions that are not appropriate and should be reassigned to other agencies.” He opposed the proposed reduction in CCRB headcount and highlighted actions the City Council can take to strengthen accountability.

The Public Advocate further pushed for non-police responses to people experiencing homelessness and mental health crises, and called for reallocation of funding spent on a surge of law enforcement into the subway system, particularly for officer overtime.

Public Advocate Williams commended the administration’s focus on strengthening the Crisis Management System, saying that “This is what public safety should look like: an investment in communities, robust support services, and allowing those closest to the problem to lead the solution.” He further argued for expanded funding of public defender services, noting “ It is low-income New Yorkers who ultimately face the consequences of a budget that favors district attorneys’ offices, deprived of the robust legal representation that they need and deserve. The city budget must ensure a high standard of quality legal representation for low-income New Yorkers.”

Read the full statement as submitted by the Public Advocate below.

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY

MARCH 20, 2023

Good morning,

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Hanks and the members of the Committee on Public Safety for holding this important hearing.

Typically, I would be asking the City Council for more funds to bolster and expand the vital services that our city’s agencies provide to millions of New Yorkers every day. In the case of the NYPD, however, it is more appropriate to pinpoint where portions of their budget are better served being reallocated to other agencies. The NYPD is by far the biggest and most expensive

police department in the country, and serves social service functions that are not appropriate and should be reassigned to other agencies.

One of the major problems with the NYPD is our city’s lack of effective oversight. The CCRB has the ability to investigate complaints of police misconduct and abuse, but they are understaffed, underfunded, and without the legal power to carry out their recommendations for discipline. The proposed budget reduced the CCRB’s headcount by 22 positions; as this reduction must come from vacant positions, it will result in a racial profiling unit of only 13, when the CCRB recently testified that their headcount goal is 50. Further, since the implementation of the NYPD’s disciplinary matrix, the number of cases being sent to the CCRB’s Administrative Prosecution Unit increased 40 percent between 2020 and 2021. While OMB allowed the APU to hire four more prosecutors, they still need more staff.

Although the CCRB cannot enforce their disciplinary recommendations, there are budgetary ways for the City Council to make cuts related to abusive policing by:

Removing the use of paid administrative leave for officers under investigation

Withholding pensions and halting all rehirings of officers involved in excessive force

Requiring NYPD to be liable for misconduct settlements

The NYPD should not be involved in providing assistance and services to people experiencing homelessness or mental health crises. Dispatching police to remove people perceived as being homelessness or experiencing symptoms of mental illness to a hospital is not helpful and only wastes city resources. The city instead must invest in non-police responses to people in mental health crisis; affordable, community-based mental health services; subsidized housing; and respite and drop-in centers. 

The mayor’s harmful Subway Safety Plan has exacerbated a police overtime surge. The NYPD has a history of underestimating their overtime spending: for Fiscal Year 2023, the NYPD had budgeted $454.8 million, but as of December 31, 2022, they had spent nearly $412 million, making the overtime bill for FY 2023 on track to pass $820 million. It does not make New Yorkers safer to spend millions of dollars on overtime for police officers to remove people perceived as homeless or mentally ill from public spaces, or to stand around in subway stations looking at their phones. The bloated overtime budget is much better spent reallocated to agencies and programs that actually serve and protect New Yorkers.

Mayor Adams and I may often disagree on the most impactful ways to address crime and violence in our city, but I applaud his support of alternative solutions to violence, including violence interrupters and cure violence programs. The city’s Crisis Management System (CMS) is a network that deploys teams of credible messengers who mediate conflicts on the street and connect high-risk individuals to services that can reduce the long-term risk of violence. CMS provides non-punitive, wrap-around services including school conflict mediation, employment programs, mental health services, and legal services.

We have evidence that these alternatives to policing work to reduce violence: CMS data from 2010 to 2019 shows that the program has contributed to an average 40 percent reduction in shootings across program areas, compared to a 31 percent decline in shootings in the 17 precincts in New York City with the highest rates of violence.

Brownsville, Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct exemplifies the success and necessity of cure violence programs. In December 2020, the police withdrew from their regular posts on Mother Gaston Boulevard for five days. Instead of a police presence, a cure violence group called Brownsville In, Violence Out watched over the two blocks between Pitkin and Sutter Avenues. No valid 911 or 311 calls were made during this pilot. A second round of this experiment a few months later saw the cure violence group and their community partners finding a missing 4-year-old and intervening in a fight brewing between groups of teenage girls, all without the help of police.

This is what public safety should look like: an investment in communities, robust support services, and allowing those closest to the problem to lead the solution.

It is also vital to adequately and robustly fund our public defender services. While free legal defender services for anyone who needs them are mandated by federal and local law, these organizations are consistently underfunded. It is low-income New Yorkers who ultimately face the consequences of a budget that favors district attorneys’ offices, deprived of the robust legal representation that they need and deserve. The city budget must ensure a high standard of quality legal representation for low-income New Yorkers.

Previously, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) contracted with community-based organizations and hotels to provide housing to people just released from prison. While meant to be a short-term solution, the housing that this program provided to people who otherwise would have had to turn to the shelter system was critical for many people’s successful reentry into their communities. These hotels were staffed by security, case managers, and nurses, giving people in-home access to resources they would not have in a shelter. In January of last year, Mayor Adams awarded a new $40 million no-bid contract to the organization Exodus Transitional Communities; while Exodus ultimately shut down their program, the city should allocate new funding for a request for proposals to continue operating this service.

Lastly, in 2021, my office released a report on reimagining safety in our schools, including phasing out School Safety Agents and policing infrastructure. Prior to the pandemic, there were roughly 5,000 SSAs assigned to schools; as of late last month, according to a report released by the Independent Budget Office, that number had decreased to 3,900. The IBO also reported no indication the city plans to significantly expand the safety division to pre-pandemic levels over the next four years. The presence of SSAs and police more broadly serve only as a reaction to violence or criminal behavior and do not create safety. This natural attrition of SSAs provides an opportunity for the city to invest in creating safe school environments by hiring more guidance counselors and social workers, expanding restorative justice and violence interruption programming, implementing trauma-informed and healing-centered school environments, sustaining and creating new Student Success Centers, and increasing youth employment opportunities.

Thank you.

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