Rather than ditching the RCMP, a new study recommends Halifax transform its policing model to fully integrate the Mounties with the municipal police force.

Halifax regional council voted in April 2021 for an independent review of the municipality’s policing model — a relic of amalgamation in 1996.

HRM hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct the study in March 2022 for $250,000. It later hired Bill Moore, a former deputy chief of Halifax Regional Police, to act as a project lead. Moore has since between promoted to executive director of the municipality’s new public safety business unit.

The study has been complete since November 2022, according to its front page. It was made public on Friday, when the municipality posted the agenda for a committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

In a report outlining the results of the study, Moore highlighted the “challenged” relationship between HRP and RCMP, as evidenced during the Mass Casualty Commission.

‘Current policing model is not integrated’

“The proceedings of the Commission and stakeholder interviews completed as a part of this study have clearly highlighted that collaboration, integration, and the strength of the relationship between the RCMP and HRP is deteriorating,” Moore wrote.

“The current policing model is not integrated. Despite what might be commonly perceived in the community the HRP and RCMP do not operate in an integrated policing model. HRM currently has a dual policing model, meaning two services operating in parallel as discrete service providers. The gap between what stakeholders expect in the policing model and what exists today is vast – significant transformation is needed to bridge that gap.”

Leadership is disconnected, the two forces have separate governance structures and operating models, and they don’t offer their services the same way.

“There is little to no coordination of resources and limited interoperability. The root cause of many challenges in the current policing model is the presence of two distinct police operating models in HRM,” Moore wrote.

There are two ways to fix the problem: a “single agency model of policing,” meaning just HRP; or “an integrated operating model,” with both forces working together.

“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,” Moore wrote.

The study contains “four pillars of transformation:

  1. Strengthening governance and reimagining the role of the Board of Police Commissioners.
  2. Integrating leadership and strategic functions.
  3. Creating municipally led community response capacity.
  4. Implementing fully integrated services, through a newly developed (future state) operating model.”

Transition to HRP alone would be pricey, study says

The study recommended the integrated approach over moving to a single police force primarily due to cost.

The initial cost to transition from the current model to using only Halifax Regional Police would mean 55% to 100% of the current annual cost of the RCMP, which is around $30 million. Ongoing annual costs would increase between 10% and 25% as a result of losing the federal subsidy covering the cost of 30% of each RCMP officer.

Recruitment would also be a challenge. The study estimated only about 20% to 40% of the current RCMP officers would transfer to HRP, meaning they’d need to recruit another 100 to 160 officers.

The changeover would present a public safety risk as well, according to the study.

“A transition to a single agency model is more likely to lead to public safety risks during transition as a result of the complexity and degree of change,” the study said.

Beefed up police board

The study recommended providing more resources to the Board of Police Commissioners (BoPC) and making both the chief of Halifax Regional Police and the chief superintendent of Halifax-district RCMP directly accountable to the board.

Currently, the HRP chief is accountable to the board and HRM’s chief administrative officer. The RCMP chief superintendent is accountable to their superiors in the RCMP.

“The current governance structure introduces clear and embedded risks of both real and perceived political influence into policing governance and operations without an effective buffer or controls between the political level, administration, and police oversight, governance and operations,” the study said.

“It creates an imbalance in accountability between the HRP and the RCMP to the local police Board of Police Commissioners and does not grant the authority for meaningful accountability at the local level. The RCMP receives but can ignore at its discretion advice from the BoPC.”

The change would require amendments to the provincial Police Act, the study said.

It also recommended recruiting for the board based on diversity and experience, and including fewer councillors to improve the appearance of independence.

Even with changes to the Police Act, it’s unclear how the municipality would force the RCMP to comply with its governance structure.

One leadership team, two police forces

The study also recommended integrating leadership, with both chiefs sharing strategies, staff, and a central communications office. Operations, deployment, and investigations would be integrated as well.

The changes require shared standard operating procedures and training.

“The HRP and RCMP leadership team will be responsible for defining the DNA of the future model and driving its culture – especially in the early stages of transformation and operations. The initial stages of transformation will have a long lasting impact in HRM beyond the tenure of the individuals,” the study said.

“Careful consideration should be given to ensuring that the team in place embodies the characteristics, culture and values of professionalism, collaboration and innovation that are essential to building trust and successfully transforming the policing model in HRM.”

Civilians responding to 911 calls

The study recommended creating a new “community safety function,” outside of either police department, available 24/7 to respond to calls that don’t require armed, uniformed police. In some cases, unarmed peace officers would respond to calls. In others, trained civilians.

“Community Response Teams will complement police services by provided trauma-informed responses to 911 calls for service involving non-violent behavioral, mental health needs and quality of life concerns, including calls involving the needs of people who are unsheltered, by dispatching teams of unarmed, skilled, civilian first responders,” the study said.

The study suggested those teams could respond to up to 20% of calls, and lead to a need for fewer sworn officers.

If that change was realized, HRM could actually save money on policing, the study suggested, up to $400,000 annually.

While much of what’s recommended requires other levels of government to get involved, the study suggests there are several actions HRM can take now.

For instance, the study said it should take immediate action to improve the effectiveness of the Board of Police Commissioners by reviewing its policy manual. And it should formalize “permanent joint leadership and functional management teams with HRP and RCMP leadership to lead and manage community policing, specialist services and investigations.”

The recommendation before council’s committee of the whole on Tuesday is to refer the study to the Board of Police Commissioners and have the board meet with the chief administrative officer and then report back to council. It’s also recommended that council direct the CAO to ask the province to include HRM as a participant in its new “multisectoral council,” though the report contains no explanation of that body.

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Zane Woodford

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. Some preliminary comments:

    1. I was a little surprised that the Legislative Authority section of the staff report didn’t reference 68 of the HRM Charter which includes: “The Council may provide police services in the Municipality by a combination of methods authorized pursuant to the Police Act and the board of police commissioners of the Municipality has jurisdiction over the provision of the police services, notwithstanding that they are provided by a combination of methods.”

    It seems to me that this is important as one of the major recommendations of the study is that the police board be given enhanced authority.

    2. “Currently, the HRP chief is accountable to the board and HRM’s chief administrative officer. The RCMP chief superintendent is accountable to their superiors in the RCMP”. This is an excerpt from Zane’s report. I can’t find anything in the HRM Charter or the Police Act that makes the police chief accountable  to the CAO. 

    The Charter does allow the CAO to “attend all meetings of the Council and any board, committee, commission or corporation of the Municipality and make observations and suggestions on any subject under discussion”  but I can’t seem to find anything else.  Maybe I missed something?
    3.  The study uses a lot of buzz words and platitudes with some fancy graphics but it doesn’t  convince me  that an integrated model is better than a single agency approach for policing in HRM.  The integrated model is essentially the status quo with two new twists: 1. HRM police and the RCMP have to agree to play nice to each other like they never have in the past and; 2. HRM police and the RCMP have to agree to be subject to an an HRM appointed police commission like they never have in the past, regardless of the requirements of the Police Act.

    At the very least, for an integrated model would need a change in leadership. Our current police chief has demonstrated through his actions that he is not the person to make the needed changes at a time when he has lost the confidence of his own rank and file.

    4. The study states that studies have indicated that annual operating costs of a municipal/provincial police service would be expected to increase total costs by 10 to 25% over the current situation but admitted that this was “primarily due to having to absorb the full cost of policing rather than paying a subsidized amount under the contractual cost-sharing agreements”. (pg. 99 of the study).

    So maybe new financing relations can be negotiated with the federal government that does not involve cutting all federal transfers to the Province and HRM. I’ve heard rumors that the Federal government is not totally thrilled with the the conduct of the RCMP these days.

    It’s also hard to believe that there are not lots of cost saving opportunities under a new model of policing. The change it had to come. We knew it all along.