Halifax’s police board heard from another group of people, most of them opposed to an increase in the police budget, at a meeting Monday evening.
The Board of Police Commissioners held a virtual meeting to gather feedback on the proposed 2023-2024 Halifax Regional Police budget, along with a requested increase in RCMP officers in the municipality. More than two dozen people at last week’s in-person meeting told the board they were opposed to any increase in police spending.
The trend continued Monday, with nine of 15 speakers telling the board they were opposed to an increase. Of the remaining six, four were either retired RCMP officers or affiliated with the union representing officers. One person offered no strong opinion either way, and the remaining person lost their connection with the Zoom meeting.
No one spoke in favour of an increased Halifax Regional Police budget.
Speakers say money better spent elsewhere
“Instead of increasing police budgets we need to act boldly to move towards new systems that work towards crime prevention and keeping people safe,” Naveen Rai told the board.
Rai said Halifax is over-policed, and it should save money by detasking police as per Dr. El Jones’ report on defunding the police.
Emerson Roach said Halifax is “a city in crisis.”
“Our health care system is failing. The cost of rent, food, and just about everything is rising, but wages are not. Our social services are woefully underfunded and our citizens are suffering. The answer to this is not to give the police more money,” Roach said.
Carmel Farahbakhsh told the board council shouldn’t be looking at cuts to arts and cultural funding, which are proposed in a report to council’s budget committee this week. Instead, it should be looking at the police budget.
“We hear the police talking about public safety and community safety as a rationale to a huge increase. But we see all other sectors de-prioritized and struggling,” Farahbakhsh said.
“We’ve heard time and time again from our communities that police do not keep them safe, rather the latter, and we have seen the critical importance of community art, successful city spaces, and community-led mental health interventions. But we are still having to advocate for these sustainable funding models.”
Halifax Regional Police are looking for a 6.8% increase in their budget, bringing the total to $95.26 million. The $6-million increase is mostly due to the Halifax Regional Police Association’s arbitrated contract increases. But it also includes about $600,000 in requested new spending for three new sergeants, a psychologist, and an occupational health nurse.
Lack of detail in budget proposal
Hil Hamilton told the board the public isn’t getting enough information on the budget.
“Board and community members don’t get any of this information and I think it’s really important in understanding what’s being proposed and presented,” Hamilton said.
Commissioner Harry Critchley, the board’s vice chair, agreed. He asked Chief Dan Kinsella whether he’d provide a line-by-line breakdown of the proposed budget.
“The budget is $95 million in total. You’re talking now about $6 million — $600,000 of service enhancements, $5.4 million in collective agreement. But we seem to be hearing a lot of concerns from the public about information as it relates to the remaining $89 million of budget,” Critchley said.
Kinsella said he’d bring that information to council, but it didn’t appear he understood Critchley’s question. Usually, the line-by-line HRP budget is only provided to council when it rubber stamps the overall HRM budget. That’s long after it’s debated each department’s budget.
RCMP union in favour of more officers
The RCMP, meanwhile, want to add 16 new officers to the Halifax-district complement over three years. That would add more than $700,000 to the budget in 2023-2024.
Hue Martin is the Nova Scotia director for the National Police Federation. That’s the union representing RCMP officers. Unsurprisingly, he’s in favour of more RCMP officers.
“I can understand why it is a big ask. However, I think it’s a fair ask,” Martin said.
Critchley and Coun. Becky Kent, chair of the board, disagreed on whether the speakers should be talking about the RCMP budget at all.
The board doesn’t have an official role in approving or denying the RCMP budget, but it may recommend for or against the request for additional officers. Kent allowed the speakers to talk about the RCMP budget.
The board meets again next Monday to debate the budgets and potentially make recommendations to council.
HRM chief financial officer Jerry Blackwood told the board the budgets are heading to council next Friday.
“It’s a tight turnaround for to provide a budget recommendation and package to council,” Blackwood said. “So, I just say that respectfully to the board, that next week is an important debate and council is expecting a budget on February 3rd.”