Melissa Mark-Viverito Defends Call for 1,000 New Cops in City Budget

Some police reform activists have opposed the City Council's plan to add 1,000 new police officers into the city budget.

Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)
Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito made her call for 1,000 new cops official today—even as some police reform groups typically aligned with the Council’s progressive wing have come out in opposition to the proposal to boost the NYPD’s ranks.

“We want a consistent presence in a pro-active way with our communities, and we need more officers in order to do that—at the same time that we’re holding NYPD accountable to be responsible,” Ms. Mark-Viverito told the Observer today during a press conference outlining the Council’s response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget proposal.

Ms. Mark-Viverito and the Council have been calling for the new police officers since last year’s budget, before the death of Eric Garner—and the subsequent decision of a grand jury not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaelo—prompted a new round of discussion in the city about reforming the relationship between police and communities of color and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s broken windows policing.

Several police reform groups, including Communities United for Police Reform, have expressed in recent days their opposition to the plan to hire 1,000 more cops, which would cost $68.7 million in the next fiscal year. It would cost another $95 million in fiscal 2017, $100 million in fiscal 2018, and $110 million in fiscal 2019. The cost would be partially off-set with a plan to reduce NYPD overtime by $50 million a year—a fraction of the $700 million the department is slated to spend on overtime this year.

“When there has been no systemic changes to the failed police accountability and culture that allow police abuses and killings of civilians to continue, proposals to increase NYPD staff are not in the best interests of our communities and their safety. While broken windows and stop-and-frisk abuses continue daily, the NYPD’s ‘community policing’ plan remains primarily rhetoric and does not warrant additional NYPD staff,” Priscilla Gonzalez, of Communities United for Police Reform, said.

But Ms. Mark-Viverito said the Council had been demanding reforms—and insisted bolstering the NYPD’s ranks would help soften the relationship between police and communities of color.

“If we want to really improve the trust between our community and the police, that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We need proactive, positive engagement from the police with our community, and that is what more officers on the ground will do. We don’t want to have to be pulling resources from other communities and keep kind of plugging the gaps, and that is what’s happening now,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said.

Another coalition of police reform groups argued yesterday in a press release that the money should instead be put “into our high-poverty neighborhoods and into non-cop solutions to community problems.” That missive was sent out on behalf of more than a dozen smaller police reform groups, including New Yorkers Against Bratton, by that group’s spokesman Josmar Trujillo.

But Ms. Mark-Viverito today framed the addition of the police as part of larger efforts to address community problems.

“All of that is happening simultaneously at the same time as we’re calling for a year-round youth program, employment program, expending [Summer Youth Employment Program] slots, supporting our community centers, having more after-school programming available—all of that combined is taking a look at this in a holistic way,” she said.

Ms. Mark-Viverito isn’t just facing opposition from police reform advocates: Mr. de Blasio has also repeatedly said he believes the NYPD headcount is at an appropriate size and today his office would say little about the budget proposal.

“We look forward to working with the Council throughout the budget process. The Executive Budget will be released this spring,” spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said.

Last year, Mr. Bratton agreed that the headcount was adequate—and today the police reform coalition seized on a comment he made in January 2014: “The size of the force has nothing to do with the ability to do collaborative or community policing.”

But at other times, Mr. Bratton has made the opposite argument—saying before he became commissioner that the department being “too small” was leading to aggressive use of stop-and-frisk. In recent months, Mr. Bratton has circled back to his belief that the department’s ranks need to be expanded—telling the City Council he’d need “at least” 1,000 new officers.

“I think he’s changed his view about whether or not he needs more officers,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said.

Melissa Mark-Viverito Defends Call for 1,000 New Cops in City Budget