40th Council District hopefuls weigh in on defunding the police at candidates forum

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The candidates running to represent the 40th Council District during a April 26 candidates forum.

Candidates for central Brooklyn’s 40th Council District seat in weighed in on reducing the New York Police Department’s budget during an April 26 candidates forum, and discussed different approaches to the policy — which all of the candidates said they support. 

Calls to defund the police and reallocate parts of its gargantuan $11 billion budget hit a fever pitch last May following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, with protesters pouring into the streets of New York City for weeks. The summer also saw a pandemic-wrought budget wreak havoc on the city’s ability to deliver essential services like sanitation, drawing further scrutiny of the department’s massive pool when compared to other city agencies. 

Six of the candidates on the ballot to represent Flatbush, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, and Kensington in the City Council voiced support for the policy, and offered contrasting ways to go about it. 

Josue Pierre, currently a male district leader for the 42nd Assembly District, said his past experiences and negative interactions with officers informed his views on policing and public safety. The candidate, whose mother was shot in the eye by a stray bullet in 2016, called for an elected Civilian Complaint Review Board, and for the expansion of community-based policing. 

“We know that we have community policing to a limited level,” Pierre said during the forum, hosted by the Unified Political Association. “Our [Neighborhood Coordination Officers] have great relationships because they take the time to get to know the community. That’s what we should expand.”

Pierre said there is “absolutely” room to reallocate from the department’s budget but did not name a specific number he would support cutting. 

Candidate Rita Joseph, a public school teacher, said she hopes to see the reallocation of $3 billion from the NYPD budget, and slammed the City Council’s 2020 attempt to cut the department’s funding as little more than theater.

“The last city council, they tucked money in different places and claimed it was a cut,” Joseph said. “This time we really want a cut. We want to reinvest that funding into social workers, guidance counselors, nurses, mental health support.” 

Cecilia Cortez, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, said she would support a budget cut, and that the role of police officers in public safety needed to be reassessed. 

“They should be doing what they do, policing, protecting us, making sure they do their job rather than being called to every event that is happening in the community,” Cortez said. “They are not trained to do that, we need to allocate those services to make sure that the community has the services that are needed with the right people.”

Kenya Handy-Hilliard, a former staffer for Rep. Yvette Clarke, said she supported removing “at least” $1 billion from the department’s coffers, and reallocating it to public safety initiatives like the crisis management system. 

Blake Morris, a contract lawyer, argued that any cut of $1 billion or less was effectively useless given the imminent plans to reorganize the school safety component of the department. 

“People who say they’re going to transfer $1 billion, it’s not doing anything,” he said. “It’s giving you ice in the winter.”

Morris said he thinks officers should be stripped of their “collateral missions,” or secondary duties of the department, so they can focus on their “core mission” — policing. 

“We don’t need the police to give out parking tickets or be the ones involved in actually enforcing the rules for street vendors,” he said. “There are so many ways we can move out the collateral missions of the police department so the police can focus on their core mission, and their core mission can be handled more efficiently.”

Edwin Raymond, a current NYPD lieutenant and whistleblower, argued he was best qualified to implement cuts to the department’s budget because of his experience on the inside. Raymond has said he aims to become chair of the council’s public safety committee if elected.

“In terms of reallocating funds, not only do I support it,” he said, “after 13 years of watching exactly how that money gets spent, line by line, I can tell you exactly where to cut it — and we can decide where it needs to go together.”