Councillors are questioning whether the recommended integration of Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP is really possible.
Halifax regional council received the new Policing Transformation Study during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday.
As the Halifax Examiner reported on Friday, the report found that HRM’s two police forces, Halifax Regional Police and RCMP, are not working together. It recommends keeping both Halifax Regional Police and RCMP, but better integrating the two forces:
“It is recommended that HRM develop an integrated operating model for police services that is focused on providing consistent and responsive services and integrating with the broader public safety ecosystem,” [executive director of Community Safety Bill] Moore wrote.
The study contains “four pillars of transformation:
- Strengthening governance and reimagining the role of the Board of Police Commissioners.
- Integrating leadership and strategic functions.
- Creating municipally led community response capacity.
- Implementing fully integrated services, through a newly developed (future state) operating model.”
Recommendation ‘may not be practical or achievable’
“It’s important that after reading this report, it’s got to be clear to everybody in the room that status quo is not an option anymore. We are not achieving the goals we’ve set out for ourselves,” Coun. Waye Mason said on Tuesday.
“What is clear is that we need integrated policing from top to bottom. What’s not clear to me is exactly how we’re going to do that. The report does recommend an integrated approach and that’s great, but I’m just going to say it: that may not be practical or achievable.”
Mason said he’s concerned with the timeline, and whether the RCMP is willing to change its approach for Halifax. He said he’d make an amendment to put an 18-month time limit on the changes.
“If it’s not possible, if the federal government and the provincial government and the RCMP are not willing to make these significant changes, and they’re pretty significant, let’s move on,” Mason said.
Coun. Pam Lovelace said it’s disappointing that HRM’s police services aren’t integrated, as she was always told they were.
“Yet this report is suggesting that we just keep going down this direction and see if maybe we can come to some kind of integrated dual police model,” Lovelace said. “And I’m not confident that we can, and I’m not sure that waiting 18 months to figure out if we’re on the right track is a good idea.”
Lovelace said she’d support a time limit, but it should be shorter, 12 months.
CAO argues timing is right for change
Coun. Tim Outhit asked how likely it is that the province and the RCMP would work with HRM on this transformation.
Chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole said it’s easy enough for council to control herself and Chief Dan Kinsella. If they’re not cooperating, she said council “has ways to deal with that.”
As for the RCMP, O’Toole said the timing is good after the recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission.
“There is a willingness and a recognition that there needs to be change. If there’s ever an opportunity, I think this is probably it,” O’Toole said.
“If this is not it, the current provincial policing services agreement expires in 2032, and that means we’ve got a nine-year period to figure out what that renewal looks like.”
The provincial government may be cooperative because HRM can act as a role model for the rest of the province, O’Toole said.
O’Toole said she liked the idea of an 18-month time limit.
“We should know by then if we’re going to have any chance of success or not,” O’Toole said.
Councillors were generally supportive of the study’s other recommendations, to strengthen the Board of Police Commissioners and establish a new model of civilian response.
“From a governance perspective, I welcome the opportunities for strengthening it,” Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, said.
Mayor Mike Savage cut Tuesday’s debate short at noon, noting there were more time-sensitive motions on council’s agenda. There was no vote on the motion to send the study to the Board of Police Commissioners for review. The debate will continue at the next council meeting.
The deliberations were impressive. The councillors seemed well informed on the issues and listened to each other. It was also encouraging to hear that so many councillors had reservations about the integrated model recommended by the consultants.
My own opinion, at present, is that an integrated model may be the best approach as an interim measure to force the two police forces to harmonize operations, as recommended by the study, while larger issues regarding the structure of policing are worked out through negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.
For this to work, however, there would have to be effective oversight of the two police forces to make sure that a work plan is prepared and adhered to. And a new HRM police chief is needed.