New York City to hire 1,300 police officers as part of $78.5 billion budget

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Nearly 1,300 extra NYPD officers will be hitting the streets under the new budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council.

For months, the mayor had been pushing back against calls to increase the number of officers, so why did he change his mind now?

The Monday night announcement came as a surprise, as the deal was not the extra 1,000d officers the council had requested, but even more.

"It is the right thing to do," said de Blasio. "Through a lot of work, we came to a plan that allows us to strengthen our police force while encouraging deepening of reform and finding key reforms on the fiscal front."

About 300 to 400 of them will be assigned to counter-terrorism, and coupled with the 400 officers moved from desk duty, and the city will see its police force of 34,500 grow to more than 36,000 in the near future.

"With your help, we can bring together police and community together like never before," de Blasio said. "And we need our force to reflect every element of this city."

On Tuesday, the mayor addressed a group of black ministers and talked how the department will change and soon become more diversified. The concept of community policing will become the norm, he said, so that police don't just patrol or respond to emergenices but get out of their police cars, put their radios aside and interact with residents of the neighborhoods.

"Cops will actually have time not to just chase 911 calls, but will have the ability to spend time in an assigned neighborhood, their neighborhood," NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said. "It's their area of responsibility."

After the meeting with ministers came praise for the changes and reforms that are coming to a now bigger police force.

"I'm hopeful the return, I mean the addition, of those police officers will provide the opportunity to provide more effective community policing," said the Rev. Robert Foley, of the Cosmopolitan Church. "So the police department and the community can come together."

The deal is part of a $78.5 billion budget that was sealed with a handshake and hug between de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, both Democrats, at City Hall late Monday.

A year ago, de Blasio flatly denied Mark-Viverito's call to hire 1,000 new officers, pointing to record low crime rates and suggesting that the resources would be better used elsewhere to fulfill the mayor's vision of a liberal, activist government that would better the lives of the less fortunate.

And for much of the past year, City Hall stuck to that script. But as Bratton began intermittently advocating for the new hires, Mark-Viverito continued to push the plan as a way to improve outreach in neighborhoods often suspicious of police and pockets of the city suffered a surge in shooting and homicides in recent weeks.

Though overall crime is down 6.7 percent from this time a year ago, shootings and murders are up. Murders have risen from 138 to 154, 11 percent, through Sunday, while shootings have gone up from 488 to 515.

A total of 1,297 new officers will be hired, the first major headcount increase in decades. Many political observers expected that a compromise would be reached and the city would hire fewer than the 1,000 officers requested by the council, in part due to eventual pension costs stemming from new hires.

But de Blasio said the surprise jump in hiring was not due to rising crime, rather to the overtime savings, though a hard cap on overtime was not yet set. The mayor particularly pegged it to Bratton's ongoing efforts to revamp police department strategies; the commissioner is expected to announce several new initiatives later this week.

Some police critics were quick to upbraid the deal.

"It's disappointing and perplexing that the city budget will increase the NYPD headcount when systemic problems with police accountability and culture that allow New Yorkers to be abused and killed have yet to be fixed," said Monifa Bandele for the Communities United for Police Reform.

The entire Fiscal Year 2016 budget will go to a vote before the full council later this week. The vote is expected to largely be a formality.

The issue of policing has always been a delicate one for de Blasio, who dismissed criticisms that he caved to the council and public pressure.

He was elected on a campaign to improve relations between police and minorities, largely by curbing the overuse of stop and frisk, a tactic that allowed police to stop anyone deemed suspicious. Its critics, however, said it discriminated against black and Latino men.

With his push to reform the New York Police Department as a backdrop, de Blasio then faced an open revolt from the rank-and-file police union in the wake of the Eric Garner chokehold death. Though an uneasy truce took hold, the de Blasio team has been particularly wary of a rise in crime, knowing it could undermine the mayor's agenda.

The budget deal was a clear win for Mark-Viverito, who has largely shaken off an early reputation that she would not challenge her ally de Blasio. Several of her other proposals were adopted, including the creation of a $1.4 million bail fund for those charged with low level offenses yet stuck in the city's jails.

"It's a budget that is going to make a difference for every neighborhood in our city," said Mark_Viverito. "It's a budget that defends the vulnerable who keep the economy on track and prioritizes public safety."

The budget, up from $75 billion a year ago, also includes $39 million to keep city libraries open six days a week, nearly $12 million to bolster struggling schools and $17.9 million to begin phasing-in free breakfast at all city elementary schools, which would serve 339,000 students by Fiscal Year 2018.

Other new investments include $21 million for mental health programs, a pet project of First Lady Chirlane McCray, more money for programs benefiting powerless populations like the elderly, homeless and veterans and, in a sure winner, money to keep the city beaches open for a week past Labor Day.
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