Video footage of a number of episodes in which police shot and killed unarmed men were widely circulated last week. The images, which emerged as Derek Chauvin‘s trial for killing George Floyd is wrapping up in Minneapolis, had many, including politicians, renewing the call to Defund the Police, or even abolish the police. Others are promoting significant reduction to public safety budgets and reallocating those funds to social services.
As a New York City Council member representing a couple of South Brooklyn neighborhoods in late 80’s and early 90’s, I lived through a version of defunding the police. It wasn’t by choice; due to severe budget restraints by a City facing fiscal problems, the hiring of officers was significantly curtailed. The results were not pretty.
In 1975, the New York City Police Department was staffed with 36,000 officers. By 1990, it was down to about 30,000. While that number seems sizable, it’s inadequate to police a metropolis the size and complexity of New York City.