Halifax Regional Police are looking for a 6.8% budget increase for next year.
Chief Dan Kinsella made the request at the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners meeting Wednesday evening. He’s asking for a 2023-2024 operating budget of $95.264 million.
That’s an increase of $6.07 million over the current year’s budget of $89.195 million. It’s also more than the budget target provided to police by the city’s finance department, $94.636 million.
Chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood told the board that figure is based on the staff recommendation to raise the average property tax bill by 8%. Council voted to aim for a 4% increase instead, and it would need a smaller HRP budget to hit that target.
But Kinsella told the board he wants to hire five new employees — three sworn officers and two civilians. Those are a recruitment sergeant; an Emergency Response Team and K9 sergeant; a hate crimes sergeant; a police psychologist; and an occupational health nurse.
The annual cost of those new employees would be $628,000, Kinsella said, bringing the budget to $95.264 million.
The civilians would help officers with their mental health and getting them back to work sooner. The sworn officers would supervise their respective units.
The board held most of its commentary on the proposal because it’s holding a public meeting on Jan. 16 before making a recommendation to council.
But Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board, said he wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending in favour of those health-related positions without seeing a human resources study the board commissioned last year.
Commissioner Harry Critchley, vice chair, asked for that study during the last budget deliberations. Kinsella was justifying his request for 26 new sworn officers and 10 civilians. He told the board then that Halifax Regional Police were in “dire straits,” with numerous officers off on indefinite leave due to burnout and mental illness. Council eventually approved a 0.4% increase to the budget, with Kinsella hiring 14 new sworn officers.
Negative public sentiment toward police is taking a toll on officers, Kinsella told the board on Wednesday, along with the trauma of the job. That’s why he wants to hire a psychologist.
Kinsella said he doesn’t know when that human resources report will be complete. He said he’ll ask the municipal staffer working on it whether it can be done in time for the Jan. 16 meeting.
The Halifax-district RCMP’s request for 16 new officers over three years was on the agenda Wednesday, but the board voted to defer a presentation until its Jan. 11 meeting.
Cops to retain street check data
Both Halifax Regional Police and Halifax-district RCMP will retain, rather than purge, their street check data.
The board heard a presentation on Wednesday from Dr. El Jones, on behalf of the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition. Jones raised concerns that police would purge their street check records at the end of the year.
In his 2019 report on street checks in Halifax, Dr. Scot Wortley recommended the data “be de-identified and retained for future research purposes.”
Jones said she had reassurances that Halifax Regional Police wouldn’t purge their data completely, but said the RCMP were planning to do so. She called on the board to ask the RCMP to retain the data, but also to make a plan to safely store that and future race-based data.
Commissioner Harry Critchley moved for a staff report following Jones’ presentation asking that the board write a letter to the RCMP’s district commander asking for a pause on the purge.
Newly appointed Halifax-district Chief Superintendent Jeff Christie confirmed the Mounties were planning to purge the data. But he gave the board his word he would make sure the data, much of which is stored in Halifax Regional Police data systems, wouldn’t be deleted at the end of the year.
The board voted to direct Coun. Lindell Smith, chair, to write the letter anyway to put it in writing.
Police vs. Information and Privacy Commissioner
The police board asked for a staff report Wednesday on the Halifax Regional Police response to recommendations from the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Tricia Ralph, who also gave a presentation to the board during Wednesday’s meeting on access to information laws in Nova Scotia, made the recommendations in a report in July.
That report was a response to an appeal from CBC reporter Shaina Luck, who was looking for information about the Halifax police involvement in the homeless encampment clearings of Aug. 18, 2021.
Luck requested HRP’s use of force policy; all use of force reports created from Aug. 18 to 24, 2021; operational debrief reports from Aug. 18, 2021; and injury reports with identifying information excluded.
The police refused to disclose any of it, and as Luck reported, CBC appealed the decision to Ralph. (Luck and CBC are also taking HRP to court over a separate denied request for 11 years of HRP’s disciplinary decisions.) According to Ralph’s report, the police didn’t even participate in the review process.
“A decision to not submit any representations at all during the review process in an effort to meet its statutory burden is concerning,” Ralph wrote.
She recommended police release all of the information Luck requested; “Implement policies and procedures for engaging in the access to information review process” within six months; and “Provide training on the policies and procedures implemented” within eight months.
The police rejected all of those recommendations.
Following Ralph’s presentation, Commissioner Harry Critchley moved for a staff report on “responding to and providing reasons for either accepting or rejecting” the recommendations.
Commissioner Yemi Akindoju questioned the board’s authority to force HRP to follow the recommendations.
Critchley argued the board should know why the police are choosing not to follow expert advice on access to information.
That motion passed with only Coun. Becky Kent voting no.