Public speakers had a clear message for the police board Monday night: no more budget increases for cops.
The Halifax Board of Police Commissioners held a special public meeting in Dartmouth to gather feedback on proposed Halifax Regional Police and RCMP budget increases.
HRP are looking for a 6.8% increase, to $95.264 million. The $6-million increase includes about $600,000 for three new sergeants, a psychologist, and an occupational health nurse. The RCMP want to add 16 new officers to their complement over three years. That would add more than $700,000 to the budget in 2023-2024.
After a short in camera session to discuss HRP human resources issues, and presentations from the RCMP and HRP, 27 people spoke to the board. The vast majority of those were opposed to any budget increase for police.
“We’ve told them we don’t want this. The people have spoken. We do not trust police. We do not want more police in our communities,” Victoria Levack said.
Levack said she started to distrust police after the “egregious atrocities” of Aug. 18, 2021. On that day, HRP responded in droves to help municipal staff remove emergency shelters.
“It was then that I realized police are not here to protect. They are here to enforce the will of the elite,” Levack said.
‘Over-funded, under-productive, and lurking around our grocery stores’
Other speakers cited Aug. 18 too, and the more recent trend of HRP officers working security at Superstore.
“While the HRP are over-funded, under-productive, and lurking around our grocery stores, there are city services that are being chronically underfunded despite the fact that they are proven to reduce crime and improve citizens’ quality of life more effectively than the police,” Willa Oaks told the board.
“Instead of funding the over-policing of our neighbourhoods, the municipality should be investing in and improving our city’s infrastructure to create more accessible and effective public transit, urban green space, and safer roads.”
Kate MacDonald reminded the board it’s not the first time people have spoken out. At last year’s public meeting on the budget, two dozen people said no to an increase, and the board voted yes.
“How many more times are we going to meet like this?” MacDonald asked.
“I can’t sit here and say that I’m like super jazzed to be standing in front of you again. I’m not. At what point are people going to care about people? I don’t think policing is rooted in that.”
Speakers decry in-person meeting
MacDonald and several other speakers told the board that the in-person format meant lots of people were missing out. The meeting was live-streamed, but people had to be in the room to speak.
Jenn Kang told the board the in-person meeting was “ableist and discriminatory,” and the board should’ve held the meeting via Zoom.
Following the public speakers, Commissioner Harry Critchley moved to defer the debate on the police budgets and hold another meeting, this time virtually. The board passed that motion unanimously, and will determine the date and time of the meeting in the next few days.
Only one person at Monday’s meeting spoke explicitly in favour of the budget increase. Dave Wilson told the board he’s a “fan” of the police.
“If they need the money, they should get it,” Wilson said.
After the board makes a recommendation to Halifax regional council’s budget committee, councillors will either accept the recommendation or send it back to the board for revision. Final budget approval is scheduled for April.