52nd precinct, Bronx
The NYPD’s 52nd Precinct in the Bronx. Its personnel costs were $21,099,740 in fiscal 2019, just one part the NYPD budget that some advocates want to cut and a few want to eliminate.

As protests continue over the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police officers, activists have increasingly called on leaders to defund the police. In Minneapolis, where Floyd died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes, a supermajority of City Council members pledged to pass legislation to defund and dismantle the city’s police department. In New York, as police abolitionists are becoming more vocal and more visible, the movement to defund the NYPD is gaining momentum. 

But not everyone agrees on what defunding would mean, or what it would look like.

Most advocates pushing for defunding cite the approximately $6 billion allocated to the NYPD in the New York City fiscal budget. That number, according to the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), doesn’t actually account for the total cost of the agency, because it doesn’t include fringe benefits for employees, such as pensions and health insurance. Ana Champeny, Director of City Studies at the CBC, says the real number is closer to $11 billion. 

Either number makes the NYPD the most expensive police department in the United States, by far. Officially, the NYPD has the third largest chunk of funding of any agency in the city, after the Department of Education and the Department of Social Services—but the latter agency’s budget is inflated by its payment of the city’s Medicaid tab.

Personnel costs dominate

The NYPD’s money, according to Champeny, mostly goes to personnel – around 88 to 90 percent. They say that means that massive cuts to the NYPD budget would be difficult to achieve without layoffs. The CBC, a nonpartisan nonprofit that issues recommendations on ways the city and state can balance their budgets, recently recommended a reduction in the NYPD headcount of 1,200 police officers but said that could be done by simply not replacing employees once they quit or retire.

Champeny says that a reduction in arrests would help reduce overtime, because much of that is generated when an arrest occurs at the end of an officer’s shift and he or she must stay on the clock to complete the paperwork—although CBC does not advocate arrest-reduction as an explicit strategy.* Uniformed overtime for the NYPD runs in the neighborhood of $500 million a year, according to Champeny, which amounts to 40 percent or more of the city’s total overtime spending. “It’s a big dollar amount,” she says.

Police spending in NYC vs. Other Big U.S. Cities

CityPolice spending per capita, 2017
Los Angeles754
New York City672
San Diego328
San Jose325
San Antonio295
Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

The NYPD’s share of the budget is lower now than it’s been at any time since 1994, and it’s dropped steadily since 2000. As of 2017, New York spent $672 per capita on the NYPD, according to a fiscally standardized database created by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Of the 10 largest cities in the country, New York was second only to Los Angeles in per capita police spending, doubling the individual city expenditures of Phoenix, San Jose, Dallas, San Diego and San Antonio.

In April, as the coronavirus pandemic caused massive economic upheaval and New York was faced with an unprecedented budget deficit, Mayor de Blasio proposed $6 billion in cuts, including $6.4 billion to the Department of Social Services, but no slashes to NYPD funding. In the wake of the protests, the mayor appeared to reverse positions and pledged to divert some of the NYPD’s funding to social services, but has said little about details. 

Where to cut?

On Tuesday, the advocacy group Communities United for Police Reform released a policy report outlining ways that the city could cut at least $1 billion of funding from the NYPD. The report also called for greater budget transparency, commenting that “The NYPD’s budget is arguably the most secretive and opaque of any New York City agency.” Recommended cuts included removing the NYPD from schools and from mental health response, a hiring freeze, canceling the January and April police academy classes and cutting 500 NYPD Transit Bureau officers. The report calculated the average cost per year of money paid out by the city to settle cases of police misconduct at over $250 million, and recommended this be cut from next year’s budget as well.  

Eli Silverman, a professor emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-author of “The Crime Numbers Game,” said that asking whether the New York police force is funded appropriately is “putting the cart before the horse” without answering other questions first. “What do you want the police to do?” said Silverman. “What are your public safety priorities and how much of that should be allocated to the police and how much should be elsewhere?”

Silverman said that over the years, many responsibilities that once lay elsewhere have been added to the police department’s duties. “Part of that is attributable to the buy-in of so-called ‘broken windows theory,’” said Silverman, referencing the idea that crackdowns on small crimes, like jumping the turnstile or selling loose cigarettes, will prevent more serious crime from growing. “New York has led the way in this sense, and many other cities have followed in this path.”

These increased responsibilities, Silverman said, were also a response to public pressure. “There was this demand to do something about crime, so you saw increases in police budget,” he said. “There’s little recognition of how we got here.” He also expressed concern about layoffs. “If you’re going to lay off police officers, who are you going to lay off?” he said.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said that cuts can be achieved without layoffs. He’s calling for $1.1 billion to be sliced from the NYPD budget over the next four years, through a suspension of hiring, a cut in overtime, and trimming things like computer service spending and outside service contracts.

“When you see a police budget that’s ballooned to $6 billion, that’s never been cut in anyone’s memory – it’s time to think of a new approach to policing but also a new approach to budgeting,” said Stringer. “And that’s what the protesters are crying out for.”

Stringer said that much of the money going to the police department should be diverted to underserved communities of color that have been ravaged by COVID-19. “A budget is a moral document as well as a financial one,” said Stringer. “It’s unconscionable that services for black and brown New Yorkers are on the chopping block while the NYPD budget is almost untouched.”

A different role for cops—or no role?

In a recent interview with NPR’s “Code Switch,” Alex Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College and the author of “The End of Policing,” said that deep social problems like drug addiction and homelessness have been left for police to deal with, and that they’re simply not equipped to do so. “Part of our misunderstanding about the nature of policing is we keep imagining that we can turn police into social workers,” said Vitale. “But police are violence workers. That’s what distinguishes them from all other government functions.”

Vitale said that most of the functions the police perform now should actually be handled by other kinds of workers. The process of scaling back police forces won’t be quick, he said, but it is necessary. “What I’m talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and attempting to develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them,” said Vitale. “And my feeling is that this encompasses actually the vast majority of what police do.” 

Even crimes like burglary could be better dealt with by prevention rather than punishment, according to Vitale. “A huge amount of burglary is driven by drug use,” said Vitale. “We need to completely rethink our approach to drugs so that property crime isn’t the primary way that people access drugs.”

Some advocates—but not all—foresee a day when policing no longer exists.

Marlene Nava Ramos, a member of prison abolitionist group Critical Resistance, said that many crises currently handled by police would be better handled by others.“It’s not just about getting rid of police, but making sure that we have other systems in place,” said Nava Ramos. “It’s about envisioning and transforming the entire system around safety and wellbeing.” 

She said that professionals who are equipped to deal with mental health emergencies would be better suited to perform welfare checks, for example. 

“Police are no longer a socially necessary entity in our society,” said Nava Ramos. “We need other kinds of agencies that are able to respond to our everyday needs. And our everyday needs don’t revolve around a person coming over with a gun.” 

Nava Ramos also said that the pandemic put the lack of adequate healthcare access across the country in sharp focus. The funding that goes toward policing, she said, would be better spent on fixing the inequities in healthcare, which often fall along racial lines. “The very first step towards addressing or moving towards healthy societies is dismantling policing and caging and moving towards a more robust healthcare system,” she said. 

The NYPD’s Share of the New York City Budget, 1980-2019

YearNYPD BudgetCity BudgetNYPD share
Source: IBO

NYPD Personnel Spending, FY2019

The first three categories encompass some of the specific spending lines that follows. This is not a complete accounting of NYPD spending, but does give a fair sense of how resources are divvied up.

CategorySpending, CY2019
Executive Management$510,323,552
School Safety$310,763,402
Transit Police$245,340,433
Office Chief Of Operations$211,730,568
Housing Police$211,730,568
Traffic Enforcement$155,744,663
Office Of Police Commissioner$148,443,837
Administrative Services Div$142,340,997
Deputy Commissioner Management & Budget$101,939,792
Deputy Commissioner Of Training$96,759,935
Patrol Services Bureau$86,329,784
Narcotics Division$75,414,695
Internal Affairs Division$71,859,747
DC Operations$64,061,415
Criminal Justice$61,958,857
Detective Bureau$55,298,930
Scientific Research Division$53,613,990
Court Division$44,907,390
Detective Borough Bronx$42,136,262
One Twenty Two Precinct$34,759,011
Thirty Fourth Precinct$32,738,907
Seventy Fifth Precinct$32,708,733
Motor Transport Division$32,707,659
Highway District$31,629,649
Forty Fourth Precinct$27,627,347
Applicant Processing Division$27,177,865
Street Crime Unit$26,943,626
Midtown North Precinct$26,718,942
Sixty Seventh Precinct$26,286,775
One Twenty Precinct$26,229,303
Forty Sixth Precinct$24,596,484
One Hundred Fifth Precinct$24,511,590
Seventieth Precinct$23,933,778
Forty Third Precinct$23,845,498
One Hundred Ninth Precinct$22,945,587
Management Information Systems$22,904,922
Seventy Third Precinct$22,826,838
Forty Seventh Precinct$22,594,732
Manhattan Traffic Area$22,531,410
Health Services Division$22,286,043
Fortieth Precinct$22,062,662
Seventy Ninth Precinct$21,395,938
Fifty Second Precinct$21,099,740
Patrol Borough Queens$20,930,671
Seventy Seventh Precinct$20,600,828
One Hundred Third Precinct$20,024,897
Eighty Fourth Precinct$19,927,126
One Hundred Thirteenth Precinct$19,828,851
Building Maintenance Section$19,800,836
Forty Eighth Precinct$19,744,697
One Hundred Fourteenth precinct$19,633,197
Seventy First Precinct$19,617,265
Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matter$19,594,626
Patrol Borough Bronx$19,365,954
Public Morals Division$18,243,042
Sixtieth Precinct$18,243,024
Property Clerk Division$18,046,816
One Hundred Fifteenth Pct$17,882,545
One Hundred One Precinct$17,827,023
Thirty Second Precinct$17,546,862
One Hundred Two Precinct$17,331,835
Eighty Third Precinct$17,267,606
Eighty First Precinct$17,259,418
Nineteenth Precinct$17,142,338
Forty Second Precinct$16,776,326
Thirteenth Precinct$16,467,219
Twenty Fifth Precinct$16,464,740
One Hundred Tenth Precinct$16,322,093
Forty Ninth Precinct$16,234,626
One Hundred Seventh Precinct$16,157,936
First Precinct$16,005,118
One Hundred Fourth Precinct$15,663,916
Seventy Second Precinct$15,537,885
Forty Fifth Precinct$15,175,491
Seventy Eighth Precinct$14,990,816
Twenty Eighth Precinct$14,841,173
Sixth Precinct$14,818,410
Forty First Precinct$14,731,081
Ninth Precinct$14,719,647
Twenty Third Precinct$14,643,214
Sixty First Precinct$14,567,718
Tenth Precinct$14,115,007
Sixty Ninth Precinct$13,881,530
One Hundred Eleventh Precinct$13,812,203
Seventh Precinct$13,696,667
Central Investigative Resources Division$13,658,197
One Twenty Third Precinct$13,337,424
Fiftieth Precinct$13,336,969
Thirtieth Precinct$13,266,662
Sixty Third Precinct$13,252,995
Twenty Fourth Precinct$13,128,863
Sixty Second Precinct$13,105,792
Ninety Fourth Precinct$13,105,154
Staten Island Detective Operations$13,071,012
Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs$12,817,956
One Hundred Eighth Precinct$12,809,551
Eighty Eighth Precinct$12,726,189
One Hundredth Precinct$12,696,114
Seventy Sixth Pct$12,636,172
Fifth Precinct$12,533,471
Patrol Borough Manhattan North$12,461,358
One Hundred Twelfth Precinct$12,318,517
Twentieth Precinct$12,176,507
Patrol Borough Staten Island$12,081,032
Patrol Borough Brooklyn North$12,020,988
Seventeenth Precinct$11,973,144
Twenty Sixth Precinct$11,824,192
Special Investigations Division$11,694,950
Harbor Unit$11,466,274
Employee Management Division$11,457,030
Central Park Precinct$10,982,837
Central Robbery Div$10,697,271
Criminal Justice Bureau$10,173,376
Patrol Borough Brooklyn South$9,174,382
Office Of Management And Planning$9,166,300
Mounted Unit$8,200,092
Office First Deputy Commissioner$8,187,080
Central Records Division$7,617,709
Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Criminal Justice$6,878,091
Special Operations Division$6,056,036
Personnel Bureau$5,937,460
License Division$5,766,842
Administrative Services Div$5,565,379
Department Advocate’s Office$5,066,332
Payroll Pension Section$4,531,631
Organized Crime Control Bureau$4,198,066
Aviation Unit$3,964,653
Employee Relations Section$3,918,781
Personnel Orders Sections$3,673,267
Deputy Commissioner for Public Information$3,190,518
Office Of Equal Opportunity$2,555,390
District Attorney NY County$2,021,936
Printing Section$1,894,556
Support Services Bureau$1,750,522
Deputy Commissioner Trials$1,366,379
District Attorney Squad Queens$1,345,929
District Attorney Squad Kings$1,221,613
Staff Services Section$885,114
Office Of Labor Policy$867,716
Arson Explosion Division$503,206
Audits & Accounts Division$61,667
Source: Supporting Schedule, FY2020

The NYPD’s Spending on Supplies, Equipment, and more

As is true for most agencies, the vast majority of NYPD spending is on personnel. Here is what a city budget document indicates was spent on other stuff in fiscal 2019:

Allowances to participants$36,900
Automotive supplies$17,843,814
Awards to widows and other dependents of employees killed$25,000
Books (other)$390,272
Cleaning services$2,277,470
Cleaning supplies$52,000
Contractual services$121,843,488
Data processing equipment$61,500,801
Data processing services$6,383
Data processing supplies$4,346,519
Education & recreation for youth$278,538
Equipment leasing$1,283,976
Equipment rentals$2,102,760
Financial assistance to college students$2,036,920
Food & forage supplies$904,064
Fuel oil$1,208,135
General maintenance and repair$4,170,110
Heat, light & power$22,900,511
Land and building rentals$66,517,871
Library books$49,173
Maintenance and repair of motor vehicles$225,005
Maintenance of operations/infrastructure$11,837,237
Maintenance supplies$6,816,975
Medical & surgical lab equipment$285,059
Medical & surgical lab supply$1,439,944
Miscellaneous charges$8,758
Motor vehicle fuel$19,834,259
Motor vehicle maintenance$1,498,126
Motor vehicles$53,197,600
Non-overnight travel$144,595
Office equipment$337,612
Office equipment maintenance$341,301
Office furniture$5,258,048
Office services$400,641
Other expenses$11,300,000
Overnight travel$3,944,694
Payments to delegate$1,598,500
Printing contracts$4,248,127
Printing supplies$282,937
Profession services – other$2,138,675
Professional services – computer$21,054,121
Professional services – engineer/architect$436,055
Professional services – legal$7,321,355
Property and equipment$37,512,889
Security equipment$24,465
Security services$3,355,960
Social services$397,252
Special expense$196,201,928
Supplies and materials$28,008,928
Surety bond premiums$500
Telecommunications equipment$2,801,500
Telecommunications maintenance$237,264
Telephone and other communications$42,204,848
Temporary services$289,658
Training for city employees$6,703,446

*Clarification: This segment was after publication to clarify that CBC does not recommend a drastic reduction in arrests.

One thought on “Cutting the Police Budget Means Revising the Role Cops Play in Today’s NYC

  1. Do any of the people quoted remember the 1980s and 1990s? Crime was out of control then; NYC had 2000 murders a year, about five or six times the current amount. The city hired a ton of new cops, and crime went down- far more rapidly than in other cities. (By the way, Los Angeles, which is no. 1 in police spending, also had higher-than-usual decreases in crime).

    I have no doubt that police are being asked to waste time on petty matters that are beyond their core mission of apprehending thieves and violent criminals. Nevertheless, we need to be careful to avoid going back to the 1980s.

    Moreover, getting police back to their core mission may actually COST the city money in the short term. Why? Because the city has been using the police as a revenue tool, to catch people in minor offenses and getting fines out of them. If you focus police energies on controlling petty crime, you lose fine revenue. So the notion of the police budget as a big revenue source for social services is wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *