Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella says he needs a budget increase of nearly $1 million for the next year to create eight new sergeant positions “to better serve the community.”
The department presented its 2020-2021 budget request to the city’s board of police commissioners on Thursday, asking for an increase of $993,300 over the 2019-2020 budget of $89,294,500 — 1.112%.
Of that increase, $106,300 was already approved in principle during last year’s deliberations based on stepped wage increases for officers. Most of the other $887,000 — $669,300 — is attributable to the proposed creation of eight new sergeant positions.
Every municipal department, or business unit, is given a budget target, and chief financial officer Jane Fraser told the board that police were asked to keep their budget to $89,436,600. Fraser said her office used that number in calculating the proposed tax increase — 1.5% on the average property tax bill, equal to $30 — approved by council this week. The police proposal recommended by the board is for $90,287,800.
Based on budget numbers in a report to council this week, the extra $851,200 police are asking for would lead to another $2.95 on that average property tax bill if council applied the entire increase to the tax rate.
The board voted to recommend regional council approve the increased budget, but while he supports the new positions, Coun. Tony Mancini said he doesn’t see his colleagues signing off.
“Every business unit has been asked to cut back, as it was last year and the previous year. I just don’t see what was cut back in this budget,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Chief Kinsella told reporters he needs the new positions to close a gap in service.
“This is what I believe is required organizationally to not only close the gap immediately through the ask but also to prepare us organizationally in the long-term to make us a stronger organization, to better serve the community,” he said.
Kinsella outlined the plan for the new positions — two new staff sergeants, two new detective sergeants, and four new sergeants — at the last board meeting in December, and made his case again on Thursday.
The four new sergeants would supervise the prisoner care facility at Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Gottingen St., where a man died in custody in 2016. Two civilian booking officers were convicted of criminal negligence causing death after they left Corey Rogers, who was intoxicated, in his cell with a spit hood over his head, and failed to conduct proper wellness checks for two hours. He died by asphyxiation after vomiting into the spit hood.
Only one sergeant currently oversees the prisoner care facility, and that person works during the day, Monday to Friday — the least busy time for the facility. The new positions would mean constant supervision.
Three of the other new positions — a staff sergeant and two detective sergeants — would be assigned to the professional standards branch, which is supposed to conduct internal investigations into complaints from the public. There’s a backlog and most investigations are happening elsewhere because officers can’t investigate their higher ranked colleagues, and the branch is only staffed with one sergeant.
The remaining staff sergeant would be assigned to the criminal investigations division with a focus on sexual assault investigations.
The board also heard a request on Thursday from Halifax-district RCMP Chief Superintendent Janis Gray for an extra position. The board deferred debate on that request, pending a staff report on its role in determining the RCMP budget.
Board chair Natalie Borden told reporters that the board would make a recommendation in favour of the RCMP request, which would move up to the provincial and federal governments.
The 2019-2020 RCMP budget was $26,869,600. Gray told the board she won’t receive her 2020-2021 budget from the provincial government till April, but she expects it to be unchanged from last year unless the new position is approved at a cost to Halifax of about $150,000.