For a self-styled police reformer running New York City amid the most sweeping civil-rights protests in half a century, Mayor Bill de Blasio finds himself in the odd position of defending the very department he pilloried to get himself elected.

De Blasio largely spared the NYPD from cuts in the $89.3 billion Covid-wracked budget he suggested in April, trimming the department’s spending by $16 million while slashing summer youth programs by $175 million. But that was before tens of thousands of people poured into the city’s streets to protest police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25.

Now, with two weeks to get City Council approval of a spending plan that plugs a $9 billion revenue gap in the next two years, de Blasio faces renewed calls to slash more than $1 billion from the NYPD. Floyd’s death, which happened while the black man was in Minneapolis police custody, has sparked protests and a push across the nation to redirect law enforcement funds to community programs and social services.

“Our budget must reflect the reality that policing needs fundamental reform,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement on Friday that was joined by seven of his most influential colleagues.

Shifting Funds
The group, emboldened by the outcry over police violence, said $1 billion of NYPD savings can be found by cutting the size of the force, curbing overtime, shifting responsibility for homeless outreach and domestic disturbances to civilian agencies, and finding efficiencies in non-personnel expenses.

The city spends about $11 billion a year on its police, when benefits, pensions and equipment are added to its $5.6 billion operating budget, according to the business-funded Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan fiscal watchdog group. That’s a 34% increase since 2010, accounting for 61% of the city’s spending growth during the decade, it found.

De Blasio, a former public advocate, campaigned for mayor in 2013 as a critic of controversial police stop-and-frisk tactics. Since the Floyd protests erupted, he has agreed to divert some money to youth programs and civilian-led efforts to fight crime, but has resisted the pressure for deeper cuts.

“We’re committed to re-prioritizing funding and looking for savings,” the mayor’s press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, said Friday. “He does not believe a $1 billion cut is the way to maintain safety.”

The arrest this month of 2,500 New Yorkers demanding police reform has made the debate even more rancorous. Former allies now describe de Blasio as a hindrance to change.

“The mayor who rode into office on promises of police reform and racial equality completely abandoned them once he got through the door,” said Donovan Richards, who heads the council’s public safety committee. He’s “the mayor who justifies every instance of inappropriate police conduct during these protests by shifting the focus to looters.”

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