Public Safety Hearing Testimony: We must stop investing in policing and criminalization over people

Justice Committee testimony submitted by JC member Divad Durant for the New York City Council Public Safety Committee's budget hearing on March 18, 2022


My name is Divad Durant. I’m a representative of the Justice Committee, a grassroots organization with an almost 40-year history of organizing and supporting families who have lost loved ones to the NYPD and survivors of police violence.


I’m also a life-long resident of New York City. I grew up in Morrisania/Soundview, in one of the precincts that is currently being targeted by Mayor Eric Adams’ revamp of the notoriously brutal Anti-Crime Unit.


As a Black man living in NYC, the NYPD has never been what keeps me safe. Like too many others, I’ve been targeted for unjust tickets and arrests, including one arrest for exercising my constitutional right to document police activity. As a young person, rather than turning to the police, I relied on the social fabric of my community for safety, a social fabric that is constantly under attack - by the NYPD, by the way the City allocates resources, by the pandemic, and by systemic inequity.


Growing up in the Bronx, I witnessed a cycle of violence - how a lack of access to quality education, jobs, housing and services drives community members into survival economies and over-policing cycles us through the criminal legal system, further deteriorating our chances for meaningful employment and stability.


Our City needs a transformative shift in its approach to public safety - one that is based on principles of equity, transformative justice and ensuring all New Yorkers have the resources we need to thrive, especially low-income communities of color, like mine, that have been divested from for years. The Justice Committee is encouraged that many new Council Members ran on platforms that recognized this need and we call on the Council to seize the opportunity of the FY23 budget cycle to realize this vision.


Mayor Eric Adam’s Budget Proposal

Unfortunately, Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget - including his proposed public safety budget - does not reflect an innovative approach to safety, but rather follows the same pattern of investing heavily in policing and criminalization while failing to make investments to increase wellness and safety for Black, Latinx and other communities of color.

Consistently, NYC spends more on policing, jails and prisons than it does health, housing, homeless services, transportation, youth and community development, parks and recreation, services for the aging, and libraries combined. The FY23 Preliminary Budget reduces spending for the City overall by $4.3 billion dollars compared to the FY22 budget, cutting monies from schools, mental healthcare, and social services. Meanwhile the NYPD Expense Budget for FY23 remains basically unchanged, despite clear budget bloat and overspending by the NYPD. We cannot continue this trend and expect to get different results. We all agree the public safety if of the utmost importance - especially given the devastation wrought by the pandemic, the co-arising economic crisis, and the public health and safety issues these have exacerbated. This is why a new approach is more important now than ever.


When Mayor Adams released his Gun Violence Blueprint, he alluded to increasing resources for mental healthcare, youth employment, housing the homeless, and other services as part of his strategy. However, these promised investments are absent from his budget proposal. While the Mayor proposes a small increase to jobs offered through the Summer Youth Employment Program, it is a far cry from the actual need. And, even as the mayor lobbies Albany to rollback bail reform and make it easier to institutionalize those suffering from mental health issues, we have yet to find any real investments in non-law enforcement violence intervention programs and community-based, culturally competent mental health services in his proposed budget. Instead, in additional to continuing to fund the NYPD’s budget bloat, the FY23 budget increases the headcount of the NYPD by 112 positions while cutting 249 positions from the Department of Health and Mental Health and 381 positions from the Department of Homeless services.


Solutions

It’s a well-known fact: the safest communities have the least police officers and the most resources. There is amble data - including a 2019 DOHMH study - that shows that interactions with police have detrimental impacts on individual and community health and mental health - and that over-policing and mass incarceration worsen conditions like poverty that drive people into survival economies. A FY23 budget that continues to disproportionately invest in the NYPD while failing to invest in our communities will only perpetuate the safety concerns we are all seeking to address.


We urge the City Council not at accept the status quo of investing in criminalization over people. Instead, advance an FY23 budget and public safety plan that:

  • Makes historic levels of investment in non-law enforcement violence intervention and prevention programs. Such program must focus on reducing youth and other community members’ interactions with the NYPD and criminal legal system, not on collaborating with them.

  • Cuts the NYPD budget bloat and eliminates the 112 new positions proposed by the mayor.

  • Removes the NYPD from mental health response, homeless outreach, youth engagement, schools and other social service roles. Increased contact with police has detrimental effects on mental health. It’s, therefore, counterproductive and illogical to try to embed mental health services within the NYPD, as with co-response teams. Additionally, enmeshing the NYPD in homeless outreach and youth engagement only serves to criminalize poverty and entangle vulnerable New Yorkers in the criminal legal system.

  • Invests in services and infrastructure for the communities most targeted by the NYPD, most impacted by the pandemic, and most plagued by gun violence by:

  1. Fully funding SYEP and year-round job opportunities for youth and adults.

  2. Increasing resources for guidance counselors, social workers, and restorative justice programs in schools to help keep youth out of contact with the criminal legal system.

  3. Investing in culturally competent, non-coersive, community-based preventative and post crisis mental health care and wrap around services.

  4. Investing in truly affordable housing for all.

  • Focuses on police accountability, not over-policing: The cost of abusive policing is astronomical. Every year, NYC spends hundreds of millions of dollars to keep abusive officers employed and payout police misconduct-related civil suit outcomes. Even as the revamped Anti-Crime Unit - aka Neighborhood Safety Teams - hit our streets, tax payers are still being forced to the pay the salaries of the officers who murdered Delrawn Small, Eric Garner, Allan Feliz, Kawaski Trawick, and Antonio Williams, whose families have been demanding their loved ones’ killers be fired for years. It’s irresponsible to flood more officers - especially in the form of these notoriously brutal units - into our communities, without first addressing the NYPD’s systemic lack of accountability.

New Yorkers deserve and need better and it’s within the City Council’s power to meet this need. Advance a FY23 budget that addresses the root causes of violence, rather than perpetuating them and invests in our communities rather than criminalizing them.



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