Photo: Halifax Examiner

Councillors are in favour of increased Halifax Regional Police and RCMP budgets, but the exact amounts are to be determined as the city’s budget process continues.

Halifax regional council’s budget committee met on Wednesday to consider proposed 2021-2022 operating budgets for Halifax Regional Police, Halifax-district RCMP, and Halifax Public Libraries.

As the Halifax Examiner reported last month, the Board of Police Commissioners recommended in favour of a 3.1% increase to the HRP budget — up from about $86.3 million in the current fiscal year to $88.9 million for 2021-2022, the fiscal year starting April 1.

What came to council’s budget committee on Wednesday was the staff-recommended 2.7% increase to the budget, up to about $88.6 million, with four options over budget for council’s consideration.

The board recommended in favour of all four of those items, totalling $332,000. They are: $85,000 for a one-year term employee to write a detailed report on body-worn cameras, $101,200 for an online training technician, $60,000 for a training course, and $85,800 for a new court dispositions clerk.

Councillors left one of those items, $101,200 for an online training technician, on the table, choosing not to add it to the adjustment list for consideration, and in turn, they chose a lower budget than the Board of Police Commissioners recommended.

They added the other three items, totalling $230,800. That means the maximum HRP budget councillors could vote for now would be $88,810,800 — an increase of 2.9% over the 2020-2021 budget.

This is not the process councillors have typically followed in setting the police budget. According to a 2017 municipal staff report, “Council has the power to approve or refuse the budget but not to amend it without the Board’s approval.”

The “legislative authority” section of the report to the budget committee on Wednesday repeats this:

The municipal council shall only exercise global budget approval and shall only accept the police service budget submitted to it by the board or refer to the board with instructions that it be altered upward or downward by a specific dollar amount or percentage.

Councillors voted to include the three extra policing items in the budget adjustment list, sometimes called the budget parking lot, which now totals $881,400. At the end of the councillors’ budget process, on April 20, they’ll vote on each item — whether to include it in the budget and how to pay for it.

Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the police board, asked municipal solicitor John Traves to address the change in process.

“Effectively what you have here in terms of the overs is a request to consider an increase in the overall envelope,” Traves said.

“And while you can set it aside and you have a rationale as to why that increase might come forward, and there would be an expectation as to how it would be spent, at the end of the day the board is free to determine how that actual budget will be spent.”

Citizens point out big-ticket police budget items

Before Smith and Chief Dan Kinsella presented the budget to councillors, they heard from two members of the public.

First, Harry Critchley, co-chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and a member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group, argued police were spending too much on budget items like polygraph tests ($260,300 in 2020-2021) and the mounted unit ($266,100), while underfunding victim services ($211,000).

Critchley argued council should remove funding for the polygraphs and the mounted unit, and make victim services independent from police. Critchley’s full written submission to the board can be found here.

El Jones wrote about these issues in a Halifax Examiner column in September:

Polygraph tests, popularly known as lie detectors, are notoriously unreliable. In 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the tests are inadmissible in court. In 2000, however, the court ruled that it is acceptable to use the tests to extract confessions from suspects. In other words, despite being unscientific and unproven, the police are allowed to use the tests to deceive suspects into often false confessions.

According to the 2020-2021 police budget, $260,600 was initially budgeted for the tests. In the revised budget reflecting the city’s budget cuts to all services, that number dropped slightly, to $260,300.

In contrast, while the police initially budgeted to spend almost the same amount on victim services as they do on polygraph tests ($261,600) in the final budget, that number was cut by more than $50,000, to $211,000.

Councillors asked Kinsella about the polygraph spending twice on Wednesday. First, Smith asked Kinsella to address the criticism.

“Polygraph is a tool, and it’s a tool that’s used primarily investigatively,” Kinsella said. “I’m not an expert on it. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that it is a tool that has value to our investigative ability. I’ll leave it at that. Subject to different opinions on it, or whether it’s good or bad, there are a number of police services across the country that use polygraph investigatively.”

Kinsella did confirm that victim services has returned to pre-COVID staffing levels.

Later on, Coun. Sam Austin asked whether polygraphs are still being used for employment.

“Yes, we use it as an employment screening tool to ensure security clearances for candidates for work,” Kinsella said. 

“Well we might have a difference of opinion on that,” Austin said. “My understanding is they’ve been responsible for wrongful convictions and they have some dubious merit.”

Back in 2008, CBC reported the municipality was reviewing its practice of using the polygraphs and asking applicants about bestiality, among other questions.

Later in the meeting, the RCMP confirmed they also use polygraphs for interviewing both new recruits and suspects.

“For applicants, they do have to have a polygraph which of course screens them for, I’ll say, suspect behaviour, but also bias, racism, you know, the polygraph is used for a number of things,” said Halifax-district Chief Superintendent Janis Gray.

“And to be honest from my experience, again I’m not an expert, but it’s not the polygraph, it’s the interview that accompanies the polygraph that aligns our mission and vision and values with our cadets … When it comes to investigative techniques, it is a tool, I know from my experience.”

Coun. David Hendsbee asked Halifax Regional Police about the mounted unit.

“With the COVID predicament we’re in, a lot of the parades that the horses were used for and ceremonial things are kind of on hold,” he said, asking how many horses the force has.

“I like the symbolic image they provide. Great for parades, great for civic events, great for being pictured at Point Pleasant Park … just kind of curious after those kind of comments, is the horse mounted unit necessary anymore?”

Kinsella confirmed the $266,100 pays for one horse and one rider. Hendsbee took no further action.

After Critchley’s presentation, Tari Ajadi, a board member of the East Coast Prison Justice Society and a member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group, spoke to the committee about the body-worn camera proposal.

“It’s clear to me that the regional police’s $85,000 request for a one-year term position to write a report on body-worn cameras is an unwise investment that ought to require broader scrutiny from Halifax council and the board of police commissioners,” Ajadi said.

The police budget shouldn’t increase at a time when the municipality is studying the role of police and the police board has struck a committee to look into defunding the police, Ajadi argued. He also argued the final report on body-worn cameras would be biased because the last two reports on the matter from police ignored the numerous academic studies showing the cameras are ineffective.

Ajadi noted the city’s auditor general reported just last week that police recently lied to the Board of Police Commissioners.

Ajadi’s full written submission to the committee can be found here.

Councillors vote for increased RCMP budget

Councillors also approved Halifax-district RCMP’s projected 2021-2022 budget — a 5.6% increase up to $29,419,000.

Halifax-district RCMP Cheif Superintendent Janis Gray also presented one item over budget — a new staff sergeant for the municipality at a cost of $75,890 for 2021-2022.

Gray said RCMP need the new position to properly investigate a growing number of public complaints while juggling other duties.

Public complaints have more than doubled since 2015, Gray said, with a total of 44 in 2020. Those complaints have been handled by a staff sergeant in Cole Harbour. The new position would focus solely on human resources and professional standards.

Councillors opted not to consider the over item in their budget adjustment list, although councillors Patty Cuttell, Paul Russell, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, David Hendsbee, Becky Kent, Trish Purdy and Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit voted in favour of it.

The budget committee was scheduled to debate the Halifax Public Libraries budget on Wednesday as well, but pushed that discussion to Friday morning.

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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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  1. I’m surprised to see an in-house research project approved in a city with three major universities.

  2. I noticed the Mayor and council did not want to talk about the history of violence in HRM.
    And they didn’t want to talk about the $4.5 million dollars the province provides every year for 40 HRP and RCMP officers. A very nice subsidy.
    And let us not forget that HRM had 9 homicides in 2018, 4 homicides in 2019 and 9 homicides in 2020.
    And in 2018 HRM had 9 homicide attempts, another 23 homicide attempts in 2019 and 13 homicide attempts in 2020.
    What will they do after the next election when a deeply indebted provincial government cuts or abolishes the subsidy for police officers ?