When $11 Billion Police Budget Can’t Save Us From Nature’s Wrath

When Mother Nature strikes with fury, even the mightiest of human institutions can seem utterly powerless. New York City’s recent deluge is a striking testament to this fact. Just imagine — in a city with a whopping $10.9 billion budget allocated to its police department, I found myself stranded amidst flash floods with no police in sight.

The summer haze from wildfires was hardly over when the Big Apple found itself drenched. Knee-deep water in some parts, and eight inches of rain in others. New Yorkers, including me, got a front-row seat to the overwhelming power of nature. The city’s aged infrastructure gasped as water streamed into subway stations, even my regular 14th Street-Union Square spot. I remember the naivety with which I assumed it was the worst of the city’s ordeal — only to be proven wrong by submerged cars, flooded schools, and halted airports.

While the government sounded alarms and issued warnings, they fell on deaf ears for those who were already waist-deep in crisis — especially those in vulnerable basement homes, often populated by the marginalized communities of the city. And let’s not even talk about the approximately 100,000 unhoused New Yorkers left to the whims of the storm. Were they to just turn around as the flood waters rose?

It’s a chilling déjà vu for many. A similar flood scene played out during the aftermath of Hurricane Ida just two years ago, painting a grim picture of our city’s readiness against such calamities. The alarming fact is that NYC’s drainage can handle just 1.5 inches of rain per hour, a drop in the ocean when you’re staring at torrents of three inches per hour. But instead of channeling funds into updating this infrastructure, an astronomical amount sits with the NYPD, serving as the nation’s largest police budget. To put it in perspective, while the city’s Emergency Management Department, the one coordinating emergency response to calamities, runs on a meager $59.4 million, almost 1% of the city’s overall budget, the NYPD revels in billions.

It begs the question, where was this vast force during the floods? While they boast a grand presence, their conspicuous absence during such crises is glaring. Instead, it was fellow New Yorkers who became the heroes of the hour, aiding each other in flooded subways and streets. As the NYPD spends billions on facilities and renovations, our beloved city struggles under the tangible threats of climate change.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò summed it up perfectly in a post, pointing out how our public institutions seem more inclined towards serving corporations and cops than their very citizens.

As we now brace ourselves for the impending smoke from Canada’s wildfires, it’s a wake-up call. How much more needs to happen before we truly prioritize our people? The police, despite their vast budget, couldn’t shield us from nature’s onslaught. Do we honestly think they are our answer against a looming climate disaster?

It’s high time New York reevaluates where its true vulnerabilities lie.