A Halifax Regional Police officer with no name tag pepper sprayed protesters who were sitting on a wall helping others who’d already been pepper sprayed on August 18, 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

Halifax Regional Police officers will soon be assigned badge numbers and new, sewn-on name tags.

Chief Dan Kinsella announced the policy change during Monday’s virtual meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners:

After significant internal discussions, these new tools address officer safety while also bolstering transparency, accountability and visibility in our community.

Some of the key highlights, as we create an implementation plan with next steps, instructions and timelines include adopting a new design and format for badges and name tags. All sworn officers will be issued a badge number. They will have two methods of identification moving forward: both number and name. Name tags will have officer last name and number clearly visible.

We are going to be providing a combination of name tags that may be sewn on. The vast majority will be sewn onto garments so there’ll be no issues when officers need to change clothing. It will allow flexibility to transfer name tags in certain situations, and it will assist the officers in their day to day duties as they often have to change outer layers of clothing, uniforms, or equipment depending on the role or response.

While Kinsella didn’t present it as such, the change is clearly a response to the events of August 18, 2021. Several police officers working that day outside the former Halifax Memorial Library — arresting and pepper-spraying people protesting the removal of emergency homeless shelters by municipal staff and contractors — removed their name tags and refused to identify themselves.

The way the name tags work made it easy for officers to avoid public scrutiny: they’re fastened by hook-and-loop (Velcro) and easily removed.

The addition of badge numbers is also significant. Halifax Regional Police previously chose to identify their officers using only their first initial and last name. As officers at the Halifax Memorial Library could be heard telling protesters on August 18, they didn’t have badge numbers.

Kinsella said the department is working on a new identification policy, and agreed to share it with the board when complete.

During a news conference on August 19, Kinsella said officers were already required by policy to display their name tags on their outermost clothing.

“The policy of the Halifax Regional Police is that officers will wear their identification name tags unless there’s some extenuating circumstance that would prevent that,” he said. “And in this particular case, we are reviewing the situation in its entirety.”

During a discussion at the board in September 2021, Kinsella said there could be an explanation for why some officers weren’t identifying themselves.

“It is, in some instances, a potential misconduct issue that has to be reviewed. In other instances, there may be an explanation as to why you know a particular officer did not have a name tag situated, whether they came to help from a different area, not generally in uniform, those kinds of things,” he said.

At that same meeting, Coun. Lisa Blackburn suggested maybe HRP should move to using badge numbers only, as the Examiner reported:

“I’m just wondering if HRP has ever considered going from a name tag scenario to a number scenario,” Blackburn said.

“I know that some jurisdictions have moved from officers having their name on their uniform and moving instead to having their badge number or some other identifying number, more for a safety issue I guess so that people are not able to see an officer’s name look them up on Facebook and further identify them and their families from that.”

Subcommittee to review subcommittee’s recommendations

The board voted at Monday’s meeting to strike a subcommittee to review the report from El Jones’ Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police.

Blackburn brought the motion forward, proposing a new group including up to three members of the board, tasked with implementing the 36 recommendations from that report, tabled in January.

The board debated how it will tackle the work, and Commissioner Carole McDougall suggested it will be important to name the new subcommittee rather than referring to it as something like the Subcommittee to Review the Recommendations from the Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police.

Jones told the board the work is really more important than the name.

“There are many urgencies to this work,” Jones said. She continued:

Some things are life and death. Last week in Calgary, a Black man — and I know that’s not our jurisdiction — but a Black man named Latjor Tuel was shot to death while waiting for a bus, experiencing a mental health crisis. And that community is talking about how that can be prevented. And that shows the urgency of mental health services. It doesn’t just dwell in one place. I’m not putting that all on one institution, but I’m saying that there is a chance here to do the kind of work that prevents that from happening, that is very well work that is in our hands, and that we can do. So I just want to remind us of that.

This weekend, we know that the building of a kitchen, the lumber was confiscated from unhoused people. I know that you might have different perspectives on that. I’m not jumping into that, but I’m saying that we see the human urgency around these issues, that the name of the committee does not matter as much as the fact that people are living in tents. People are living without food. Every time there’s a mental health call there is a risk of people dying as a result.

I just really want to encourage you, yes, we need to do this work carefully. Of course, it needs to be thoughtful. Of course you do not make solid social policy by rushing ahead and doing things for the moment. But also, I just do encourage you as a member of the board that has a strong responsibility and ability here to really take that on. I just really want to encourage you to be courageous here.

Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, said terms of reference for that new subcommittee may be complete by the board’s next regular meeting, scheduled for March 21.

The board will meet again next week to discuss the 2022-2023 Halifax Regional Police budget, which council’s budget committee sent back to the board for revision on Friday.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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