The city’s police board will hold a public hearing before voting on the Halifax Regional Police budget for next year.
At its virtual meeting on Monday, the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners heard presentations from Chief Dan Kinsella on the 2022-2023 operating budget including a requested 2.3% increase, and from El Jones on the report from the Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police.
But before either presentation, the board passed a motion from Commissioner Harry Critchley to schedule a virtual public meeting where the public will get a chance to have its say on the proposed budget increase.
Critchley wasn’t present for Monday’s meeting due to illness, but provided detailed reasoning for the motion before the meeting.
“Holding a special online meeting of the Board to give members of the general public an opportunity to provide input and feedback regarding the proposed HRP budget for fiscal 2022/23 is consistent with the Board’s duties to ‘act as a conduit between the community and the police service providers,’” Critchley wrote.
“The meeting should also be conducted outside of regular business hours (i.e., in the late afternoon or evening) so as to promote accessibility. The meeting should be advertised online ahead of time through HRM social media so as to ensure the public is aware it is happening.”
Critchley envisioned each person getting 10 minutes to present, and having an opportunity to file written submissions.
Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, said this would better align the police budget process with the general municipal budget process, where people have five minutes to present to council’s budget committee at the beginning of its meetings.
Coun. Becky Kent felt five minutes would be more appropriate than 10 minutes at the board’s hearing as well, and the municipal clerk and lawyer agreed.
That meeting is likely to happen within the next two weeks to leave enough time for the board to vote on the budget, and for Kinsella to finalize it and bring it to regional council in late-February.
Kinsella gave an updated presentation to the board on his request for the 2022-2023 budget: $90.9 million. It’s an increase of $2,066,100 over the 2021-2022 budget of $88,810,800 — equal to 2.3%. The extra money would be used to hire 26 new sworn officers, including 12 patrol constables; eight traffic constables; one traffic sergeant; two sexual assault detective constables; and two hate crimes detective constables.
After the board asked for more information at its meeting in December, Kinsella provided an often-flimsy rationale for each of the new positions.
For instance, Kinsella used a line graph without a labelled Y-axis, purportedly showing a dramatic increase in mental health and PTSD claims among officers, to justify the request for new personnel. For a civilian position to handle Freedom of Information requests, Kinsella cited an increase in FOI requests over the last two years and showed a misleading bar graph.
The board deferred a vote and debate on the budget request until after the public hearing.
And finally, the board heard a presentation from Jones on her subcommittee’s report, Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM. The Halifax Examiner published an in-depth summary of the report last week, along with its 36 recommendations:
The subcommittee held a public consultation session last summer, along with an online survey that received more than 2,000 responses.
As a definition of defunding, the authors, — Jones, Tari Ajadi, Harry Critchley, and Julia Rodgers — provide “four pillars of defunding:
- “Reforms to police practices, oversight, and accountability;
- “Reforms aimed at ‘detasking’ police and ‘retasking’ more appropriate community service providers;
- “Legislative, regulatory, and policy reforms intended to promote community safety; and
- “Financial reforms aimed at tying police budgets to clear performance metrics and encouraging public participation in municipal budgeting, with the ultimate intention of decreasing budgetary allocations to police and increasing allocations to community-based social services.”
Jones presented an overview to the board on Monday.
“We have disinvested and defunded social services and then turned to the police to fill in the gaps, which is also not fair to the police, and not reasonable or rational or efficient, or the best way of doing things,” Jones said.
“So in order to shift away from policing, we also need to shift the way we resource other organizations and the way, more importantly, that we think about why we rely on police when we can rely on other strategies … defunding police is in many ways about reinvesting in fundamental and historically underfunded community resources.”
Coun. Lisa Blackburn said the report was “everything I wanted it to be, and then some.” Blackburn said she’ll bring a motion to the next meeting to strike a new subcommittee of the board to examine each of the recommendations in detail and come up with a work plan.
Jones was supportive of Blackburn’s proposal.
“Certainly I would not suggest that people adopt recommendations without thinking closely about them. Some of them you may decide you don’t want to adopt; some of them you may adopt,” she said.
But Jones also noted some of them could be implemented quickly. For instance, the report’s recommendations not to adopt body-worn cameras and to require Halifax Regional Police to make their policies public could be implemented immediately.
Smith said the board would likely schedule a full meeting to discuss the report recommendations. The board passed a motion on Monday to accept the report and thank the subcommittee for its work.