What does criminal justice reform look like to Kathy Hochul?

September 27, 2021
City & State

“We do not support ‘defund the police.’ No one in my administration does.”

That was Gov. Kathy Hochul’s response to a question last week about a tweet from her lieutenant governor in January. “I support the movement to defund the police because I believe that there are parts of the NYPD budget that are not essential for public safety,” read a campaign statement from Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin when he was still running for New York City comptroller. There is certainly daylight between the new pair when it comes to the issue of criminal justice reform, on which Benjamin was a leader in the state Senate. 

Hochul’s stance on the movement to defund the police, which she referred to as a “catch phrase with very negative connotations,” is perhaps unsurprising. Moderate lawmakers like Hochul have generally shied away from the language or, as she did, outright condemned it. Early action like signing the Less is More Act to reduce the number of people reincarcerated for parole violations and selecting Benjamin as her lieutenant governor are good first steps on the issue in activists’ eyes, but many are still waiting to have conversations to assess what sort of partner she will be moving forward. 

Government transparency and accountability was among Hochul’s early priorities in the wake of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s opaque approach to governance. Joo-Hyun Kang, executive director of Communities United for Police Reform, said the sentiment was welcomed but that it must extend to all parts of the public sector, including police and their unions. “If we take her at her word for that, then that should mean that she should take hard stances and be bold about the need to curb the impunity of police departments across the state,” Kang told City & State.