The municipality’s police board has recommended in favour of an increased Halifax Regional Police budget, but not the new positions the chief hoped to add.
The Board of Police Commissioners met Monday evening in Dartmouth to consider the 2023-2024 police budget. It was the board’s fourth meeting this month. At its last two, one in-person and one virtual, the board heard from the public why it shouldn’t approve any increase.
Chief Dan Kinsella wants to hire three new sergeants. One sergeant would supervise the hate crimes unit, one the K9 and emergency response teams, and one the training program. And he wants to hire two civilians — a psychologist and an occupational health nurse to help get officers back to work. The total cost of those new hires in 2023-2024 would be more than $600,000.
That’s on top of a 6.1% increase in the budget attributed almost solely to the contract between the municipality and the officers’ union. That increase totals $5.4 million, bringing the proposed budget without Kinsella’s new hires to $94.6 million.
Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the board, was in favour of Kinsella’s full request. Kent said work is underway to reimagine public safety in HRM, but in the meantime, it needs more cops.
“Policing is not going to go away in society. Policing is needed in society,” Kent said.
“And we have a responsibility to outfit and resource and accommodate the kinds of needs that our members, our service personnel have when they have the impact of what they’re doing on their personal health, for instance.”
Chief makes secretive, unsuccessful case for new hires
The board heard about that impact during a half-hour in camera session to start the meeting. It’s the second time this year the board has met in camera, that is without the public, on the budget. That’s because Kinsella is unwilling to talk publicly about human resources and mental health issues in his ranks.
Coun. Lisa Blackburn argued after the in camera session that Kinsella’s proposed hires would help get officers back on the job.
“Fact: Officer absenteeism is at a level not seen before and many of those officers are off with mental health injuries. An in-house support system would get them back to work sooner,” Blackburn said.
Kinsella has presented no evidence in public as to why that in-house system would be more effective.
Coun. Lindell Smith wasn’t convinced, but didn’t elaborate.
“I understand where the chief’s coming from with those service enhancements and I fully get it but there are concerns I have with some of them and the way moving forward,” Smith said. “And I guess I can only say that, at the moment.”
Smith asked to break the motion into two votes. That’s one for Kinsella’s extra requests and one for the inflated base budget with no “enhancements.”
The motion on the extras failed 4-3. Kent, Blackburn, and Commissioner Tony Thomas voted yes.
Failed attempt to defer vote
On the rest of the budget, Commissioner Harry Critchley argued there’s not enough detail to make a decision.
On Friday, the municipality published tables comparing last year’s budget to the proposed 2023-2024 budget. But the tables aren’t as detailed as those published in the final budget document, Critchley argued.
For example, Critchley said there are line items in last year’s final budget for the victim services unit, traffic unit, and the mounted unit. That level of detail wasn’t provided to the board or the public.
“We’ve heard over and over again that the public is looking for more information about the budget. The public wants to know what the line items are, they want to know the rationale for those line items,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I’m left in the same position I was two meetings ago. I’m left in the same position I was last budget. This board, and by extension the public, which we are statutorily obligated to act as the conduit for, has not received adequate information to make a reasoned deliberation on the budget proposal in keeping with our duties under [the Police Act].”
‘End-run around a proper budgeting process’
Commissioner Gavin Giles agreed, and said he only received the additional information on Monday.
“I cannot in good conscience signify my approval for something which I do not understand, and more importantly, which I have no been given any reasonable opportunity to even try and understand,” Giles said.
Giles said the budget process at the board makes an assumption that last year’s budget was adequate, and only those parts changing are up for debate.
“That is not a budget process, at least not consistent with any kind of budgeting process I have ever had anything to do with … it seems to me to be rather an end-run around a proper budgeting process,” Giles said.
“I feel that what I’m being asked to do is an abrogation of my responsibilities, and the abrogation of the responsibilities of anyone being asked to do the same thing.”
Giles moved to defer the vote until the board received more information.
Kent agreed there’s room for improvement in the budget process, but not this year.
“We have a responsibility to move this budget along,” Kent said.
“It seems to me we’re seeking expediency over good governance,” Giles said.
“We are saying we have an imperfect process, but we’re on a timeline so we’ll adopt it and we’ll hope to have a better process as the year goes on. I think that’s an appallingly short-sighted view of what our responsibilities are as set out by the provincial government.”
The vote to defer failed 5-2, with Giles and Critchley voting yes.
The vote for the 6.1% increase to the budget was 5-2, with Critchley and Giles voting no.
Commissioners had the opportunity to move two small reductions to the budget. Those were $83,600 in savings by cutting lake patrol and $153,900 in increased revenue through higher extra-duty fees. They didn’t move either budget reduction.
The Halifax Regional Police budget heads to council’s budget committee on Friday. If council is in favour of the board’s recommendation, the process is complete. If not, it may send the budget back to the board for changes.
More RCMP officers recommended
The board also made a recommendation to council on the RCMP’s budget request.
Halifax-district RCMP want to add 16 more officers to the region over the next three years, starting with four in 2023-2024. That would add more than $700,000 to the budget next year.
As of Monday, the board doesn’t know the total increase in the RCMP budget based on its union’s contract alone. That information is coming to council’s budget committee on Friday.
But the board recommended in favour of adding four officers to the complement for 2023-2024.
Smith moved the recommendation. He argued the RCMP made a good case for their request, given growing population in the rural and suburban areas they police.