The real cost of the police, and why the NYPD’s actual price tag is $10 billion a year

  • At $US6 billion a year, the New York Police Department has the largest police budget in the nation.
  • But when police pension, fringe benefits, settlements, and debt payments are added in, police spending actually swells to over $US10 billion a year.
  • Most of that goes to uniformed officers’ salaries, overtime, and pension.
  • As police budgets have risen, it hasn’t led to less crime. Instead, controversial police programs like stop, question, and frisk, high-profile deaths of Black New Yorkers, and record-high settlement payouts have called the rising NYPD budget into question.
  • Following George Floyd’s death and police-budget cuts in Minneapolis, protesters in New York Cty called for $US1 billion worth of cuts to the 2021 NYPD budget. But only about $US420 million was actually cut.
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Following is a transcription of the video: – Narrator: This mask costs about $US240. Those boots? $US103. Riot gloves: $US68. The tear gas launcher: $US299. The shield: $US164. And this entire outfit? About $US500. Though all this may seem pricey, it’s just a drop in the bucket of New York City’s $US6 billion police budget.

Michael Bloomberg: I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.

Jonathan Rosenberg: In general, budgets are a statement of priorities. Those prioritizations are made by the elected officials.

Narrator: But how did the New York Police Department end up with the largest budget in the nation? Well, there are a lot of reasons. First, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 1994 “broken windows” policing. It leaned into the belief that a small crime left un-policed would lead to big crimes.

Rudy Giuliani: If some guy is urinating in public, we got a problem.

Narrator: That led to mayor Michael Bloomberg’s highly controversial police program, Stop, Question and Frisk. He started ramping up the program in 2002.

Bloomberg: To deter people from carrying guns.

Narrator: And at its peak in 2011, officers made nearly 686,000 stops. 53% of those stopped were Black.

Tatiana Hill: Going into these neighbourhoods with primarily people of colour and picking and choosing people to harass.

Narrator: In 2013, a federal judge ruled Stop-and-Frisk unconstitutional, but not before it cost the city a billion dollars in police misconduct cases. Even as Stop-and-Frisk slowed, police spending in New York City continued to soar.

Rosenberg: Police budgets, like most agency budgets in New York City, are created by the agency themselves. Budgets are a series of policy decisions that have been made over a number of years. Because of the size of New York City’s budget, those policy decisions will carry from year to year to year, unless something is changed.

Narrator: The police department’s budget makes up about 6% of New York City’s budget.

Rosenberg: The New York City Police Department’s budget has historically been funded at about 92% to 95% by New York City taxpayers.

Narrator: So how exactly is the NYPD spending these taxpayer dollars? Let’s break down the 2017 budget, totaling almost $US5.2 billion. The biggest chunk, about 91%, or $US4.76 billion, went to personal services: salaries, wages, and overtime. NYPD officers are some of the highest-paid cops in the country. On average, each of the 36,300 uniformed officers costs the city over $US100,000 a year. Then there’s overtime. In 2017, the NYPD’s budget planned for $US583 million in overtime.

Jennvine Wong: You will hear about cases where officers make arrests around 5:30, when their tour ends at like 6:00.

Rosenberg: A few years back, the council and the administration agreed to increase the police department’s overall head count by 1,300 heads so that they could combat overtime increases. But in fact, overtime has continued year over year to go up.

Narrator: The officer that choked Eric Garner in 2014 raked in $US17,000 in overtime in the 12 months after Garner’s death. After that, it gets a little harder to follow the money. We do know the budget set aside $US58 million for a new precinct here. $US14 million went to new locker rooms. $US64 million went to motor vehicles and $US104 million was planned for police training. During that training, 60 hours are spent on firearm skills while just eight hours are spent on conflict management.

But this NYPD budget doesn’t even include debt payments, health insurance, known as fringe benefits, or the police pension. That pension alone is almost half as much as the NYPD budget. Combined, all this extra spending comes out to almost $US4.8 billion in 2017. In 2017, the city paid out an estimated $US335 million to settle past claims against the NYPD. These were for cases of police misconduct, wrongful convictions, and an allocated $US75 million for dismissed summons that disproportionately targeted people of colour. Although settlements pay for NYPD mistakes, they don’t actually come from the NYPD budget; they come from the city budget. In 2017 alone, that’s more than $US10 billion allocated to run the police department and fix any problems it causes. And the budgets have only continued to go up since.

More responsibility on the police department hasn’t necessarily created the desired outcome. In his 1994 crime bill, President Bill Clinton promised to:

Bill Clinton: Put another 100,000 police officers on the street.

Narrator: But studies show it had a modest to little effect on crime. In fact, crime rates had already been trending downward since the early ’90s. Remember when Stop-and-Frisk was ruled unconstitutional? After the program slowed, there were fewer cops on the street and fewer arrests. Meanwhile, violent crime continued to decrease.

Wong: One of the most effective programs that has really addressed gun violence has been the Cure Violence program. Once there was a shift more to a public health model, there has actually been a more significant and consistent decrease in that kind of violence.

Narrator: Another example, after the cop that choked Eric Garner was fired, the president of the PBA union, the largest police union in New York, said this:

Pat Lynch: I’m sorry to say that we have to tell our police officers take it a step slower.

Narrator: He basically urged police officers to stop making arrests in protest. And they did. But as arrests dropped by 27%, major crime also fell by about 20%. A 2016 report from the New York City Department of Investigation concluded that there is no evidence that the drop in felony crime observed over the past six years was related to quality of life summonses or quality of life misdemeanour arrests. Even if policing might not have a direct effect on crime rate, it does have very real effects on society. Take Stop-and-Frisk for example. In 2011, 87% of the stops were of Black and Latinx New Yorkers. But 88%, or 605,000, were innocent. In 2013, the judge who declared it unconstitutional said it was a form of “indirect racial profiling.” And it had lasting effects. Students affected by the policy were more likely to do worse in school, and young men stopped reported more symptoms of anxiety.

Wong: It really resulted in a public health crisis for Black and brown communities.

Hill: It creates an environment of distrust of the police. It creates mental instability. We are traumatized. That is a living trauma, to be afraid every time we walk down the street of being arrested, harassed, possibly murdered.

Narrator: These disproportionate arrests have led to high-profile deaths of Black New Yorkers and increasingly high settlements. In 2018, Stop-and-Frisks decreased to about 11,000, although the department has acknowledged that many stops go unreported. And according to this audit the NYPD sent Business Insider, these are all the mandatory trainings that police officers go through.

Wong: NYPD has instituted a lot of the reforms that people are falling for already. But where are we now?

Narrator: The ban on choke holds in New York City took effect in 1993. Eric Garner died after being put in an illegal choke hold in 2014. And there have been nearly 1,000 allegations of police choke holds since. Body cameras were another attempt at preventing police abuse. The 2019 budget set aside $US12 million for cameras and technology. Carl

Takei: It is valuable to have that record of what police are doing through the body camera footage, as long as that footage is released to the public, and that’s been a huge issue with the rollout of body cameras. Police department policies don’t use body cameras as the transparency tool that they should be using them as.

Narrator: The over $US1 million spent on implicit bias training in 2018 didn’t work as well as advocates had hoped either. Recognising bias didn’t actually change police behaviour.

Wong: At the time that Officer Francisco Garcia was on camera, engaging in that kind of rapid escalation and excessive use of force, NYPD had already instituted implicit bias training for all of their officers. It’s been clear that these reforms have not succeeded in achieving the kind of structural, transformational change that everyone is out on the streets protesting for.

Narrator: As police spending has been put under a microscope in New York City, a lot of people are calling for reallocation of funds.

Hill: That is what defunding the police means: to take away from the budget that doesn’t address the needs of the community and place it where it would be helpful.

Linda Sarsour: To reappropriate that funding for education, for healthcare, for housing, for mental health services, infrastructure, transportation, and truly the services that we are in need of in our communities.

Wong: When you reinvest in the community and when you reinvest in services that actually address the root causes of these problems, we’re talking about actually making our communities safer overall for a longer term.

Narrator: So if the NYPD were to reallocate, how much can the police budget buy in other services? The cost of riot gear for one cop could get PPE for 33 nurses. The billion dollars being spent on new police facilities could build 17 new elementary schools in New York. The $US635 million spent on NYPD overtime could pay for the salaries of over 9,000 new social workers. In 2020, the NYPD had its biggest spending year ever, with a modified budget of over $US6 billion. Back in May, the city announced the 2021 budget for the NYPD would be $US5.6 billion. But following protests, de Blasio said the city would cut nearly a billion dollars off of that.

Rosenberg: But those cuts never really materialised. In fact, the actual number that we estimate is approximately $US420 million in cuts to the police department’s budget.

Narrator: The largest cut came from overtime. But sticking to this new budget is impossible to promise, since police overtime is often decided by unforeseen events.

Rosenberg: We found that, in a two week period at the beginning of June, when the anti-racism protests began, New York City spent $US115 million on police overtime, which was over four times what the city spent in the same period last year.

Narrator: On New York 1, the police commissioner also said:

Dermot Shea: Our homeless outreach unit was essentially dissolved with this most recent budget. The answer is much more complicated than writing summonses to individuals. This is a bigger issue. This is much beyond the police.

Narrator: Some reported the intended $US400 million budget cut for school safety officers was going to be shifted from the NYPD to the Department of Education’s budget, which would have diverted the funds, not removed officers from schools. But for now, nothing there has changed.

Rosenberg: The real, only way to reduce the PD’s budget in any significant way is to reduce the number of head count, is to reduce the size of the force.

Narrator: The cadet class for October is still set to begin training.

The push to reimagine NYPD’s funding is following a trend of police budget cuts across the country. Protesters are calling for part, if not all, of the $US115 billion spent on policing nationwide to be redirected into social services, education, and public health.

Sarsour: So what we’re saying is let’s keep the cops where they need to be, which is to keep our community safe. Police officers are not educators, they are not guidance counselors, they are not psychiatrists, they are not mental health professionals, they are not case managers who can provide services to people who need it. So why call the police on issues that they do not have training nor are they the experts in?