"The first cut is the deepest." - Cat Stevens
The Thin Blue Line is about to get a little skinnier.
OK, so no one will ever accuse the NYPD of being svelte with its annual budget of about $6 billion, but the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota is about to cause some belt-tightening 1,200 miles away from Minneapolis. Mayor Bill de Blasio is bowing to protesters’ demands and promising to cut some of the police department’s budget and give it to youth programs. Yup, youth programs – the very warm-and-fuzzy thing that the mayor was proposing to shear just two months ago as the coronavirus was raging across the city. It’s sometimes tricky to follow Bill de Blasio’s bouncing budget ball.
The mayor has been around long enough to have seen things bounce in the other direction. Thirty years ago, de Blasio was a mid-level City Hall staffer for David Dinkins, whose mayoralty was sinking under the weight of 2,207 murders in his first year in office. With the pressure of then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Dinkins eventually went on a NYPD hiring spree, even launching a “Safe Streets, Safe City” lottery ticket in a desperate attempt to stop the violence by beefing up the police force. And for a wide variety of reasons, it’s largely been a 30-year success story, with the number of homicides dipping to 311 in 2019 – an incredible 86% drop from 1990.
While it may be a fair question to wonder if the NYPD needs to have the same level of staffing in a less-dangerous time, that question was answered pretty clearly by the City Council and the mayor in 2015 when they decided to hire close to 1,300 more cops. The force behind that deal was then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito – a politician who will never be confused with Clint Eastwood. Amazingly, the move to increase the NYPD’s budget funding came less than a year after the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD.
So what’s changed in five years to make the NYPD a political pariah in some circles? The death of George Floyd certainly gave New Yorkers a painful case of déjà vu, with Floyd even echoing Garner’s dying words: “I can’t breathe.” But the massive protests across the country could also be seen as a collective response to President Donald Trump, who seems a lot more interested in talking about his latest poll numbers than Floyd’s death or the coronavirus, which has killed a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos.
There’s just a little irony in a city cutting the budget of its police force in the wake of some of the worst rioting we’ve seen in decades, but that’s where we are in 2020. And does anyone really think that the NYPD – or any city agency – will be magically fixed by reducing its budget? Solutions are complicated and could be even more expensive. It’s easier to cut and run.