From the Police to the Youth: Is NYC truly headed towards meaningful community development?

As a response to the recent protests against police brutality, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a $1 billion budget cut from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) through a combination of savings and budget realignments towards various NYC programs. In FY 2021 budget, $430 million of the slashed NYPD funding will be given to youth and social services programming, including 80,000 slots for Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) programs like Beacon and Compass.

While that sounds like a significantly large amount of additional funding, does the public even know enough about these programs? Do we really understand exactly who will benefit from this and where they are? Redistributing NYPD funding toward youth and development programs is certainly reason to celebrate. But before we completely rejoice over a reactive decision by Mayor de Blasio, we still need more information on these new funding beneficiary programs.

According to 2019 data published by the DYCD in Open Data NYC, Beacon operates after school programs in public schools four boroughs across NYC. Brooklyn operates the most number of Beacon programs, with the Bronx operating the least. In total, there are 80 service providers running Beacon citywide.

Beacon Programs are after-school services that are designed to foster positive youth development, social emotional learning (SEL) and leadership skills among children and the youth within low-income families. Beacon covers academic assistance like tutoring and financial literacy, life skills training and career preparation, as well as civic engagement and community building. Some of Beacon’s activities also cover health and recreation, and culture and the arts activities for children and the youth.

DYCD Beacon Programs as of 2019

On the other hand, Comprehensive After School System of New York City, otherwise known as COMPASS, is a network of program providers located in public and private schools, community centers, religious institutions, public housing, and recreational facilities throughout NYC. Similar to Beacon, COMPASS NYC supports the youth towards their academic achievement identity, and leadership skills through service learning and other civic engagement opportunities.

In the same 2019 DYCD data, COMPASS providers run after school programs in four boroughs across NYC. As with Beacon, the concentration of COMPASS is still in Brooklyn. However, unlike Beacon, the Bronx has the second largest set of service providers, while Manhattan and Queens have approximately the same number of providers. Moreover, COMPASS has service providers over ten times the number of Beacon’s, with a total 844.

DYCD COMPASS Programs as of 2019
DYCD COMPASS Programs as of 2019

At this point what we do know is that COMPASS receives more funding than Beacon, considering that the former serves both private and public schools across the city. We also know that Staten Island does not receive any of these after school programs. Why it doesn’t is another story unbeknownst to us.

The 2019 DYCD data includes a list of public school service providers across the city. Below is a picture of a map that locates all 80 service providers using their addresses and additional spatial data provided by DCYD. The service providers appear to be evenly spaced out, allowing potential coverage for different neighborhoods within each borough.

However, since it began, Beacon has not published any progress report on the number of youth and children served, nor on the progress that they have made. What we are left to assume is that it is an effective program that benefits its intended clients. However, the lack of data given by the NYC Mayor’s Office makes it difficult for us to deduce whether funding Beacon as after school programs in public schools should be increased or reallocated directly to all public schools cross the city instead.

We face a similar scenario with COMPASS. Since it began, COMPASS has not published any progress report on the number of youth and children served, nor on the progress that they have made. Below is a picture of a map that locates all 844 COMPASS service providers using their addresses and additional spatial data provided by DCYD. This covers both public and private organizations operations a COMPASS program.

The 2019 DYCD data fails to tell us, at the minimum, exactly how many children and youths have benefitted from their flagship programs. Mayor de Blasio’s promise of covering 80,000 more slots is hard to imagine without a reference point and basis for increasing. As I’ve said earlier, the additional is definitely a welcome change and response towards defunding the police. But we can’t easily be swayed by decisions that are set to simply manage a dissatisfied and angry public. If the intention of the Mayor’s Office is to funnel funding away from the police and towards more meaningful youth and community development, we need to demand more transparency and seek more evidence from the local government. So, to Mayor de Blasio, thank you for the funding, but please, free the facts.