Soon after Mayor Eric Adams said he would enact a hiring freeze at the Police Department, the alarming texts began to circulate.
Festooned with red siren emojis and replete with speculation, they warned rank-and-file officers that many might be transferred back to patrol and that buyouts and demotions were coming. Police unions called the proposed cuts a “disaster,” and even the rapper Cardi B, weighed in, predicting in a social media video that “crimes are gonna go up the roof.”
Some in New York politics questioned whether the mayor’s headline-grabbing proposals last week were an effort to get President Biden’s attention over the migrant crisis or were a negotiating tactic in the annual budgeting dance with the City Council. Many said they found it difficult to believe that Mr. Adams, a former police captain who has tied his identity to the department, would go forward with the cuts.
“This certainly feels like a deliberate Hail Mary to push Albany and D.C. for more help,” said Justin Brannan, a City Council member from Brooklyn who chairs the Council finance committee.
At a town hall in Coney Island, Brooklyn, on Monday night, the mayor said the cuts were real but that he did not want to make them. “We all are angry,” he said. “Don’t yell at me. Yell at D.C.”
Retired executives say that if the city actually goes through with the plan to postpone five classes of new officers through 2025, it would hobble units that investigate sex crimes and homicides, further overwhelm detectives who already face crushing caseloads and force officers to work overtime and weekend shifts, crushing morale.
The police commissioner, Edward Caban, has yet to make a public statement about the implications of a proposal that would bring the number of officers below 30,000 for the first time in decades. There were nearly 35,000 officers in the department in 2022. In a statement, the Police Department said it “manages its budget to ensure it is utilized in a manner that continues to prioritize public safety.”
But inside the department, the announcement led many to say they would consider early retirement.
“N.Y.P.D. is stretched as thin as it could go right now,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association. “It just adds stress to an already stressful job. Every little thing compounds the situation, and the only people that lose are the people of the city and the victims of crimes.”
Mr. Adams said that the cuts in the city’s $110 billion budget were necessary because of the growing cost of the migrant crisis. Every agency would be affected, including the Department of Education, which would see its budget cut by $1 billion over two years; the Sanitation Department; the city’s libraries; and popular programs like summer school and universal prekindergarten.
Beyond the migrant crisis, the city is facing major budget challenges, including the end of federal pandemic aid and the costs of new labor contracts approved by Mr. Adams, who counts unions among his closest allies.
Mr. Brannan said that the City Council plans to examine the budget cuts in a hearing after Thanksgiving. He said that he believes the city “can weather this storm without draconian cuts that compromise public safety and our quality of life.”
Mr. Adams said in a television interview the day before the cuts were announced that he would not let a hiring freeze harm his efforts to bring down crime.
“I am not going to do anything that’s going to impact public safety,” he said.
His spokesman, Charles Kretchmer Lutvak, said on Monday that the state and federal government “can help stave off these cuts by providing the funding necessary to protect these vital city services.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters on Monday that she was looking for ways to help the city close the budget gap. “The city needs to be safe,” she said. “I’ll work with the mayor to make sure that’s accomplished.”
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which for years has accused mayors of increasing the police budget at the expense of other agencies, said that migrants are being made scapegoats and that the budget gaps reflect “a failure of leadership.”
She expressed doubt that the Police Department would actually take a heavy hit.
“The N.Y.P.D. is quite expert at avoiding any cuts,” Ms. Lieberman said. “If past is prologue, skepticism is appropriate.”
James Essig, who retired in September as chief of detectives, said it is hard to believe that the city would freeze classes while the department is struggling to recruit, and when more officers are retiring or leaving for other agencies.
New recruits help fill the most “two most essential parts in the Police Department” — the local precinct and detective squads, he said.
Freezing classes would force the department to take seasoned officers from specialized units and send them back to the precincts, he said, and predicted that veteran officers would retire instead, he said.
In 1970, there were 38,000 police officers — including transit and housing officers — in a city of about 7.8 million, said Kenneth Corey, a former chief of department. That number fell to fewer than 30,000 in 1980, according to the Independent Budget Office. The reduction in ranks, the result of a fiscal crisis that led to layoffs and attrition, was followed by one of the worst periods of crimes in the city, Mr. Corey said.
Now, the city’s population is at about 8.3 million, and the responsibilities of the police have also grown, he said.
“There are increased demands on police officers who are assigned to terrorism prevention and response,” Mr. Corey said. “Can you strip them out?”
Cuts to other city services could compound the crisis, said Brandon del Pozo, a retired New York police officer and an assistant professor at Brown University.
“If you’re slashing mental health services, substance abuse prevention, housing, the cascading effects will definitely impact crime,” he said. “There are so many safety nets that are keeping people out of prison that are also on the chopping block.”
The city’s budget crisis is real, and its deficit for next year could be higher than the mayor’s estimate of $7 billion, perhaps as deep as nearly $10.6 billion, said Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, an independent watchdog.
Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and mayoral candidate, said he did not think the cuts would influence President Biden, who has a tense relationship with the mayor, because the president does not need Mr. Adams politically. The City Council would probably allow the cuts to take effect and let the mayor take the blame, he said.
“When you’re cutting quality-of-life services like police and sanitation, those are important to the tax base of the city,” Mr. Albanese said. “You don’t want people moving out because of crime and dirt.”
Political leaders could feel the fallout at the ballot box, said Mr. del Pozo.
“There is a long history of using the police head count as a way to play chicken with the city budget,” he said. “There is a long history of there being electoral consequences if you’re the one who is ultimately blamed for wrecking a police department.”
Chelsia Rose Marciuscontributed reporting.