The NYPD has surpassed its overtime budget less than eight months into the fiscal year, easily blowing past a $253 million cap that Mayor Bill de Blasio touted as the centerpiece of his efforts to rein in police spending.
Through February, the department had paid out $270 million in overtime to uniformed and civilian officers, according to figures provided to Gothamist by the NYC Independent Budget Office. At the current pace, total spending on police overtime will equal $405 million for the fiscal year ending June 30th, 60% more than what the mayor had promised.
Asked about the discrepancy on Wednesday, de Blasio disputed the idea that the NYPD was ignoring his own spending targets. “They are under a mandate from me and the City Council to keep reducing overtime and they have been reducing overtime and they will reduce it more,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Total overtime spending to-date is significantly lower than past years, though budget experts attributed much of the drop to the absence of parades and other large-scale events in this fiscal year, which began on July 1st. Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged the overspend on Thursday morning, blaming “protests and continuing attrition.” (The NYPD press office did not respond to our request for comment.)
The NYPD’s critics said the cost overruns offered more evidence of the yawning gap between the mayor’s rhetoric on policing and the realities of the department in the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests.
Joo-Hyun Kang, the director of Communities United for Police Reform, said that most observers were unsurprised that the department had so quickly shot past the adopted overtime budget. “It’s not a number they feel like they have to follow, regardless of what they say in public,” Kang told Gothamist. “We’ve always known overtime is a shell game. It’s an outrageous state of affairs.”
After protests against the police swept the city last June, de Blasio said he had reached an agreement to cut $1 billion from the NYPD budget — a sum that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson later acknowledged was inflated. Of the $415 million ultimately cut from the department’s budget for this fiscal year, a total of $334 million came from the promised reduction in overtime spending.
Even as overall crime decreased during de Blasio’s tenure, police overtime spending has ballooned: from $583 million the year he took office to $724 million in 2019. In the last fiscal year, NYPD overtime reached a historic high of $887 million — more than the amount paid in overtime to firefighters, sanitation workers, and correction officers combined — fueled in part by the department’s response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, the controversial anti-terrorism squad at the forefront of this summer’s protest response, led all units in overtime expenditures, according to a report prepared this week by the City Council Finance Division. During that period, the average NYPD member took home $19,000 in overtime toward their $117,000 total pay. Police commanders earned over $50,000 in overtime pay on average.
The NYPD is far from the only agency that regularly outspends its budgeted overtime, according to Jonathan Rosenberg, a director at the city’s Independent Budget Office. But curbing the police department’s sprawling overtime has proven particularly challenging for the de Blasio administration. “They’ve made many efforts of trying to curb uniformed overtime and the track record is not great,” Rosenberg said.
Confronted with skepticism over his latest overtime undertaking last summer, the mayor insisted the department would abide by the budget, describing his police commissioner, Dermot Shea, as a “data-driven modern manager [who] is going to find ways to make things happen.”
“This is the real thing, and it’s abundantly clear it’s the real thing and I really think people need to be more honest in their assessments of what’s happening here,” the mayor added.
But other city lawmakers who were closely involved in the budget process say that both de Blasio and Shea knew the overtime goals were unlikely to be achieved — but pushed forward anyway in order to avoid more serious cutbacks to the department’s resources.
“The mayor and the commissioner have tried to mislead the public into believing there was a significant reduction in NYPD spending,” City Councilmember Brad Lander told Gothamist. “It’s utterly untrue and totally misleading.”
Additional reporting by Christopher Robbins