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.”
I watched the virtual meeting yesterday and offer the following:
1. Cutting speakers off so abruptly after 5 minutes came across as harsh – almost as if no one was listening to the point that they were making anyway. I would have given each speaker 10 minutes but, if the Board was unwilling to do that, the Chair should just request each speaker to finish their thought.
2. The RCMP justification for increased resources based on the large area they have jurisdiction over is very misleading. If you go to Googe Earth or the HRM website, you can see that vast areas of HRM are forested and inaccessible by road, particularly up the Eastern Shore. I don’t think that the RCMP do a whole lot of patrolling of these areas.
3. There should be no increase given to the RCMP budget (other than previously that previously approved through labour contracts) until the report of the Portapique massacre has been tabled and a reasonable opportunity has been given to consider the recommendations. I think it is quite possible that the report recommendations may include reorganization of the RCMP and their responsibilities.
4. It is obvious from the body language and response of the Police Chief to the request for more detailed information about the police budget that he does not believe this information should be made available to the public or the Police Board. This is problematic because, until such time as the Board can actually carry out it’s legislated mandate, we’re moving towards a police state where the police have no oversight. This may sound dramatic but consider that the Police Chief refused to participate in the inquiry by Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner and refused to accept the Commission’s recommendation to turn over information requested.
5. Despite demonstrating contempt for any oversight established under provincial legislation, our police chief clearly does not have the support of his rank and file. It is time for a new police chief that can deal with the many challenges ahead for HRM police.
The 5 minute rule for speaking applies to every meeting and has been in place for a long time for every meeting of council,boards and committees when the public ia allowed to comment. The chair explains the rule at the start of a meeting.
Chief Kinsella explained that pay increases accounted for a 5% increase in the budget. In 2022 and in HRP jurisdiction there were 9 homicides and 15 attempted homicides. In the areas patrolled by RCMP there were 2 homicides and 5 attempted homicides. The increase requested by the RCMP is usually a result of the negotiations between the province and HRM, The province gives HRM $3.8 million a year for extra officers and has done so for over 10 years; and gives HRM a further $800,000 a year for extra RCMP officers.