The city’s police board is recommending in favour of a 2.3% increase to the Halifax Regional Police budget.
Chief Dan Kinsella asked for that increase, equal to about $2 million on top of last year’s budget of $88.8 million, to pay for 26 new sworn officers and 10 new civilian positions. He said the new positions were needed to fix a police force “in dire straits” as a result of factors including Halifax’s growing population, a “dramatic spike in activism,” and increased officer absences due to mental illness.
On Monday night, the Board of Police Commissioners held its first ever public meeting on the budget virtually, and heard from 24 people. They were nearly all opposed to the budget increase.
Numerous speakers cited a lack of evidence for the proposed new officer positions and a lack of detail in the budget, along with the recent report from the Subcommittee to Define Defunding Police (Examiner contributor El Jones was an author of the report). They spoke about August 18, 2021, when Halifax Regional Police pepper sprayed and arrested protesters at the old Halifax Memorial Library after kicking homeless people out of city parks.
Kate MacDonald, who, like many of the speakers, was at that protest, questioned how the extra money would make policing more effective in the city.
“And how will $2 million make HRP more culturally competent and less racist?” MacDonald asked. “How do we know that this isn’t an investment in more violence, as trends show that it actually is?”
Gary Grant, the second of two retired RCMP officers to speak to the board, wasn’t vocally opposed to the budget increase, but said the police should be presenting the public with more details.
“There’s so much that isn’t there, that I don’t know how you can make a proper decision on it,” Grant said.
Tari Ajadi, a member of the board’s Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police and one of the authors of its final report, told the board it had two paths to choose from:
One’s easier. It’s the status quo for how the board has operated for the past few decades, with little variation. From my perspective, it’s also a dereliction of your duty as commissioners under the Police Act to ensure that community needs and values are reflected in policing priorities, objectives, goals, programs and strategies. It means throwing away any shred of legitimacy that the subcommittee’s process, and this budgetary process might have. The other’s a lot harder. It’s more complex. It requires meaningful community engagement, extensive consultations, a willingness to experiment and be bold. It also requires you to say no to this budgetary request, to put your foot down, and to demand better for the residents of Halifax Regional Municipality.
After the public speakers, the board went in camera for a one-hour session with Kinsella for more details on his requests. Then it took the first path outlined in Ajadi’s speech, the status quo.
Commissioners voted down a motion from Commissioner Harry Critchley (also an author of the defunding report), with an amendment from Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board. That motion would’ve kept the dollar figure about the same as last year’s budget while adding the 10 requested civilian employees and two hate crime detectives.
Coun. Becky Kent said she felt she couldn’t deny the chief’s request.
“I’m very, very, very serious and concerned about our staffing issues in relation to the health of our serving members … I can’t ignore it,” Kent said.
“And I’m also very, very serious and cognizant of the work we have to do going forward to bring about change, creating a plan for re-tasking, whatever that might look like.”
Kent, along with Coun. Lisa Blackburn and commissioners Yemi Akindoju and Anthony Thomas, voted against Critchley’s motion and in favour of the full requested budget increase. Commissioner Carole McDougall, vice chair of the board, voted with Critchley and Smith.
The budget is not final after Monday’s vote. On February 23, it goes to Halifax regional council’s budget committee, where there will be another opportunity for public speakers. Council may approve the budget, send it back to the board for revision, or further debate it later in the budget process.
Council will also be asked to consider increasing the budget for the board itself by $100,000. Critchley argued the board needed that increase to be able to hire staff to complete its work independently of the police force. The board’s budget line will also move from the police budget to the chief administrative officer’s.