City Council Speaker Draws Ire of Allies on Police Hiring

April 15, 2015
New York Times

The New York City Council is again calling for the hiring of 1,000 additional police officers, a request that Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected last year.

Undeterred, the Council, led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, outlined a budget proposal this week that would spend $68.7 million in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1, to add 1,000 officers to the class that will enter the Police Academy in July.

But in a letter sent to Ms. Mark-Viverito on Wednesday, nearly five dozen organizations, including Communities United for Police Reform and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, questioned whether the Council was trading away community services for more “community policing.”

The letter listed a variety of programs that could be financed with the money the Council wants to spend on the new officers. Many more teenagers, for example, could be provided with summer jobs than the 50,000 who were hired this year, the letter stated, noting that about 83,000 young people were shut out of summer jobs last year because of a lack of money.

The groups said that by focusing on increasing the size of the Police Department, the Council was ignoring some of what fuels tensions between the police and many residents.

“Without addressing these core issues, the addition of 1,000 new Police Department positions — to be dispersed throughout our communities that already feel over-policed — threatens to exacerbate these longstanding problems, deepening rifts between not only communities and the police, but also between New Yorkers and their city government,” the letter said.

The Council’s renewed push to increase the number of officers comes amid a national debate over police-civilian relations, which have been strained by the killings of several men at the hands of officers. One of those men, Eric Garner of Staten Island, died after a confrontation with the police in July. A grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer implicated in his death touched off days of protests in New York.

The call for more officers puts the Council at odds with Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who has said the Police Department is adequately staffed. Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the mayor, declined to comment on the police proposal, but said the administration looked forward to working with the Council — which Democrats control — when the mayor’s budget is released this spring.

The Council proposal has also created friction with advocates for liberal causes, whose work on behalf of low-income residents and for police reform usually makes them allies with the speaker and other left-leaning Council members.

Indeed, Ms. Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, and many of her colleagues have joined in protests with members some of the groups that signed the letter. Echoing Mr. Garner’s words during his fatal encounter with the police, she and several other council members wore “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts to a Council meeting in December. They toned down their rhetoric after a mentally troubled man killed two police officers in Brooklyn after posting statements online indicating he had been inspired by Mr. Garner’s death.

“We consider the speaker an ally on most issues, but the point of the letter was to push back and to try to reframe the issue here,” said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center. “Folks would like to think that before you put more police officers on the street, you change the culture of police.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito has defended the Council’s request, saying the city needs more officers on the streets to improve relations between the police and residents.

On Wednesday, her spokesman, Eric Koch, pointed to a list of social service programs the Council included in its budget proposal, including a year-round youth job program, repairs to New York City Housing Authority buildings and free lunches for public school students.

“The City Council’s budget response invests heavily in all communities and will provide access, opportunity and justice for New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.



A version of this article appears in print on April 16, 2015, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: City Council Speaker Draws Ire of Allies on Police Hiring.