By a thin margin, councillors voted on Friday in favour of an increased budget for Halifax Regional Police.
It’s the culmination of a months-long budget building process that saw the increase for the police budget fall from 2% in December to 0.4% this week as the Board of Police Commissioners and councillors heard from residents and passed the spending plan back and forth.
On Wednesday, the board voted in favour of Chief Dan Kinsella’s latest request for $384,200 more than the 2021-2022 budget. That figure is designed to include 12 new patrol constables, one new hate crime unit detective constable, one new “member reintegration” constable, one emergency response communicator supervisor, and three part-time emergency response (911) communicators.
Kinsella told councillors on Friday that the increase does not include increased salaries from the new collective agreement between HRM and the union representing police officers. That collective agreement gives cops a 10% increase in pay over four years. The increase is apparently accounted for for existing officers, but not those being added to the force. It could effectively add $100,000 or more to the budget.
At a virtual meeting of their budget committee on Friday, some councillors challenged the chief and his staff to explain how the requested increase in patrol constables isn’t offset by a corresponding reduction in the overtime budget.
Kinsella has argued he needs the new constables to fill in the gaps left by an undisclosed number of officers being off on sick leave due to mental illness. He’s spent hours justifying that position in camera, but in public, many councillors still weren’t convinced.
During the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency budget debate, councillors voted to add 10 new positions and those are fully offset by a corresponding reduction in the overtime budget. Coun. Sam Austin asked why that’s not the case for HRP. But because HRP has been spending more on overtime than it’s budgeting, Kinsella said there is no offset.
That wasn’t a satisfactory answer.
“We’ve had other departments that come in with these challenges — the fire department, we did a thing with planning and parking enforcement — where, ‘If you give us X, then we can produce Y,’” Austin said.
“I find it challenging that we can’t seem to get to an answer in terms of the police department about, ‘If you give me more officers this will be the impact on overtime. I don’t expect for it to pay for itself completely. But I would think there would be some sort of impact there and if there’s no impact there, which is what I’m hearing, then that suggests to me that the original budget was out of whack from from the very get-go. I don’t mean to be to be rude, but I feel like there’s a lack of rigour that’s been put through on this, either in the department or as the police commission.”
Kinsella stuck to what is essentially an emotional argument: officers are off because they’re tired, so if we hire more officers the problem will be solved. And it won over a majority of councillors.
“This is more than just the money. This is about the the mental health and support of officers. They are run down and run ragged,” Coun. Trish Purdy said.
“There are obviously other issues here that need to be addressed, yes. But right now there is a crisis and so this would help alleviate some of the pressure so that they can start dealing with the other issues like absenteeism and trying to get officers back to work and all the other stuff. When you are in crisis, you can’t really deal with things properly.”
The vote in favour of Kinsella’s updated proposal passed 9-8. Austin, along with Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace and councillors Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, Kathryn Morse, Patty Cuttell, Iona Stoddard, and Cathy Deagle-Gammon voted no. All others voted yes: Mayor Mike Savage, Purdy, and councillors Tony Mancini, Shawn Cleary, Lisa Blackburn, Paul Russell, Tim Outhit, David Hendsbee, and Becky Kent.
While there won’t be any further changes to the police budget, it won’t be finalized until the vote on the overall 2022-2023 HRM budget, scheduled for early April.