More crime, more prosecutors. Less crime, more prosecutors.
New York’s district attorneys have gone on a hiring spree in the past decade, a time when crime plummeted to historic lows, a new analysis shows.
The DAs in the five boroughs and the special narcotics prosecutor beefed up their staffs by nearly a third, although arrests dropped by 45%, the city’s Independent Budget Office found.
And city taxpayers are picking up the tab. This fiscal year, the city budgeted $456 million for the offices – roughly $446 million from New Yorkers, $10 million from state and federal grants.
For CUNY law professor Steven Zeidman, the “enormous growth reveals a knee-jerk funding to law enforcement.”
“Just think about what that money could have done to improve education, health, housing, and job opportunities in neighborhoods decimated by hyper-aggressive policing and prosecuting,” he told The Post.
Today, the DAs have nearly 4,700 employees, compared with roughly 3,600 in 2010 – and triple the number in 1980, when crime increased steadily.
Manhattan DA Cy Vance, for example, has 1,551 staffers – 306 more than the 1,245 when he came into office a decade ago and the same number that all the DAs combined had 40 years ago, according to the findings of senior budget analyst Bernard O’Brien.
Manhattan DA Cy VanceAP
Vance’s office explained the higher body count by ticking off a list of the staffer contributions — from launching initiatives to guarantee equal justice to investigating complex crimes like identity theft to meeting the state’s new discovery requirements, which force prosecutors to turn over evidence to defendants within 15 days.
“We are thankful for the funding that helps us excel as a 21st century prosecutor’s office,” spokeswoman Emily Tuttle told The Post, adding that penalties paid by white-collar crooks have added $1.24 billion to city coffers – more than 10 times the office’s annual city funding.
The Staten Island DA’s office, though, had the biggest percentage jump – 145% — from 82 to 201. And roughly 90% of the hires have been added since 2016, when Michael McMahon took the reins.
McMahon used his staffers to create bureaus and units – the domestic violence bureau and the gangs and guns unit, for instance – as well as diversion programs and anti-drug initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic, a spokesman said.
All the office’s efforts “have required an increase in the overall number of prosecutors, analysts, and support staff all working…to keep our borough safe,” he said.
In Queens, the DA’s office grew from 509 to 722. Many of the 213 hires do community outreach and now help prosecutors meet the discovery requirements, a spokesperson wrote in an email. “Staffing for Assistant District Attorneys in the Queens DA’s Office has remained steady for nearly 20 years.”
The Bronx DA’s office jumped from 680 to 1,000, a gain of 320. “We not only prosecute people,” spokeswoman Patrice O’Shaughnessy said. “Discovery reform requires personnel, from ADAs to trial prep assistants, to investigators, tech people, analysts, etc.”
Like his counterparts, Brooklyn DA spokesman Oren Yaniv talked about adhering to the discovery law. But he also pointed to fighting violent crime as a key reason why the office has grown from 893 to 1,054. “The increase shows we still have to ensure public safety.”
The special narcotics prosecutor’s office challenged the analysis, which lists 200 staffers – up from 176 in 2010. Spokeswoman Kati Cornell put today’s number at 213, up from 209.
Cornell explained the numbers from the analysis reflected positions the city started funding after state and federal grants dried up. The analysis, too, notes a stark drop in positions funded by state or federal grants — from almost 500 in 1980 to fewer than 150 this year.
The 14 new hires are all what Cornell described as non-legal support staff to help assist prosecutors with complex investigations and to meet the discovery deadlines.
“While complex investigations yield fewer arrests, consistent with the city’s goals to reduce incarceration, these cases make a greater impact than lower level arrests,” she said.
Hofstra legal ethics professor Ellen Yaroshefsky told The Post that cities nationwide have watched their DA’s offices balloon.
“This phenomenon is a national one,” she said. “The increase in monies for prosecution as crime deceased is seen as a major cause of mass incarceration.”