National News

Amid George Floyd Protests, City Discusses Idea of Defunding Police

WINDSOR TERRACE — The protest marches in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis are continuing in New York and other cities and have led to calls for major reforms in policing.

One idea that has been discussed much more frequently of late is the defunding of police departments.

Nine of the 13 members of the Minneapolis City Council have publicly stated that they are in favor of not just defunding but dismantling that city’s police department. Lisa Bender, the council’s president, confirmed as much on Twitter on June 7. 

“Yes. We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a transformative new model of public safety,” she tweeted.

The notion of defunding the police is quickly gaining momentum in New York.

On June 12, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced a proposal to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s budget.

Johnson issued a joint statement with seven council members – Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy Jr. from Brooklyn, I. Daneek Miller, Adrienne Adams, Daniel Dromm and Donovan Richards from Queens and Vanesa Gibson of the Bronx – touting the idea.

“We believe that we can and should work to get to $1 billion in cuts to New York City’s police spending in the Fiscal 2021 budget, an unprecedented reduction that would not only limit the scope of the NYPD, but also show our commitment towards moving away from the failed policing policies of the past,” the council members said in their statement.

The lawmakers said the massive budget cut is doable through attrition, reducing overtime and shifting responsibilities away from the NYPD.

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a series of reforms he would like to see implemented that included shifting some of the NYPD’s $6 billion budget to youth and social services in communities of color, moving street vendor enforcement out of the NYPD’s jurisdiction, and establishing a community ambassadors’ program to improve cop-community relations.

“While we have taken many steps to reform policing in this city, there is clearly more work to do to strengthen trust between officers and the New Yorkers they serve,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Anthony Beckford, founder and president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, who has taken part in numerous protest marches since the Floyd killing, said the time to re-think the NYPD’s budget is now.

Re-directing money away from the NYPD would “take away from the militarized budget that they do have,” he told The Tablet.

Beckford would like to see $1 billion taken from the NYPD and put toward agencies responsible for education, youth services, and senior citizen programs. He acknowledged that programs already exist, but said a great deal of improvement is needed.

“Just because these agencies are in our communities, there’s still a disparity,” he said.

Beckford also called for the creation of vocational education programs for teens and young adults but police are pushing back hard against defunding.

Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, blasted the idea.

“I think it’s a recipe for disaster,” he told Currents News.

New York isn’t Minneapolis, DiGiacomo said: “The New York Police Department did nothing wrong. Why are they making villains of us?” 

Cops are “out there every day putting their lives on the line,” DiGiacomo added.

Msgr. David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, and a chaplain for the NYPD, explained why he is against defunding. 

“I don’t understand how it would work,” Msgr. Cassato told The Tablet. “If you look at what’s happened recently, crime is going up. To have a safe city, you need cops.” 

Msgr. Cassato isn’t opposed to giving additional funds to education and youth services programs but said it’s not necessary to take money out of the pocket of the NYPD to do it. 

“When this mayor came in, he talked about wanting universal pre-k and he did it. He found the money for it. He didn’t have to take anything away from anybody,” Msgr. Cassato said.

Defunding the NYPD is an idea that is gaining traction, according to Peter Moskos, professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who is also opposed to it.

“Labor is what this is all about. If you’re talking about major cuts, you’re talking about laying off police officers,” Moskos said. He sees the whole defunding argument as “a backhanded way to say we need fewer cops.”

He also questioned the wisdom of shifting money from the NYPD to other agencies that, he says, don’t have track records. 

Among the reforms Moskos would like to see, is an emphasis on the cop-on-the-beat strategy to improve police-community relations.

The State Legislature is working on a series of bills aimed at increasing police accountability, including a repeal of Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law. Section 50-a protects the personnel records of police officers, firefighters, and correction officers, including disciplinary records, from public scrutiny.

The repeal would mean that the records would be subject to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.

“Black New Yorkers, like all residents of this state, deserve to know that their rights, and lives, are valued and protected by our justice system,” State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

The article was updated to include the statement from City Council members.

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