Socially distant newly sworn-in councillors listen to a speech from Mayor Mike Savage in October 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford

In light of councillors’ votes this week to add $230,800 to the Halifax Regional Police budget, we’re looking back at what they were saying on the campaign trail.

Since they were elected in October 2020, councillors have approved a base $88.6-million budget for police. The vote was unanimous, with only Coun. Lisa Blackburn absent. That’s a 2.7% increase over HRP’s 2020-2021 budget, which was cut down to $86.3 million due to COVID-19. The 2019-2020 HRP budget, for comparison, was $88.9 million.

Councillors also voted the same day for an increased Halifax-district RCMP budget of $29.4 million — 5.6% more than last year. That said, they don’t have much control over the RCMP budget, with the provincial government deciding how much HRM spends. And they voted down a request from Chief Superintendent Janis Gray for a new staff sergeant for the municipality at a cost of $75,890.

But this week, councillors added to the HRP budget again.

On Wednesday, they voted to add $85,000 to the budget for a one-year term employee to study body-worn cameras. The vote was 14-3, with councillors Waye Mason, Patty Cuttell and Iona Stoddard voting no.

On Thursday, councillors added $60,000 for a training course (the vote was unanimous) and $85,800 for a court dispositions clerk. The vote was 11-6, with with Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit, and councillors Trish Purdy, Pam Lovelace, Paul Russell, Cathy Deagle-Gammon, and Cuttell voting no.

During the campaign, the Halifax Examiner asked every candidate for mayor and council a series of questions, including one about policing.

That question was:

Would you support a reduction of the Halifax Regional Police budget for fiscal 2021-2022? Why or why not?

Here are their answers.

Mayor Mike Savage:

In the past year, Council has redirected money budgeted for an armoured response vehicle to support the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the non-police Public Safety Office.

Halifax police services are frequently called on for services which would be more appropriately provided by other professionals. This includes such things as traffic control or street closures for special events, which could be managed by special constables. More complex issues include wellness checks, which should include professionals with the skills to manage mental health or other health related crises. Council has approved a comprehensive review of police services to identify those functions that can and should be moved to other services, leaving the police with core duties. Implementation of any recommendations will have to be done in concert with the Province, as they have responsibility for mental health and other human services.

Our efforts should extend to better understanding and addressing social determinants of crime and continuing to invest in youth programming, community recreation, library services, public green spaces, and playgrounds that improve quality of life.

This review will help us determine the appropriate level of funding for the police to provide the services that citizens expect of our police service.

Coun. Cathy Deagle-Gammon, District 1 — Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley:

  • I would support a review of the Police Budget –I am aware that my knowledge is not enough to evaluate the impact of a reduction in the police budget.
  • I have read the Wortley Report and strongly endorse the acceptance and recommendations – with emphasis on the final list 4.1 to 4.17 on Improving Police Community Relations.
  • There is great concern in our community that Halifax Regional Police are asked to perform duties that exceed their training and there is a significant need to augment with mental health workers, social supports etc.
  • District1 is talking loud and clear about the absence of a Police presence at times when we need it most.
  • The relationship between the HRP and the RCMP could also be better communicated and perhaps a review is now in order.

Coun. David Hendsbee, District 2 — Preston–Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore:

No. But I would like to see if we can find and fund alternative service delivery for  functions that can be done by civilians. ( parking enforcement, crowd control, guiding parade traffic ).

I would like to see our police force have access to a dedicated 24-hour mental health response team to assist them with domestic dispute and peace disturbance calls.

Coun. Becky Kent, District 3 — Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage:

Police Services are still vital in our society and in our communities, but I will be looking for changes in priority funding to include local crime prevention and partnerships with local agencies and in our Districts.

Coun. Trish Purdy, District 4 — Cole Harbour-Westphal:

No, I do not support a reduction to the police budget. I support our police and do not want to see a reduction in their ability to do their job or in their authority to protect our city from crime and misdemeanors. I do not want to see our society become more prone to anarchy with a lack of respect for authority. Police and their presence within our community are needed and valued. Over and over again in this campaign so far, I have been hearing the residents of my district say they want more police presence on their streets, not less.

Coun. Sam Austin, District 5 — Dartmouth Centre:

I don’t know what will be proposed for the police budget at this point so it’s really hard to say. Salaries for all employees in HRM go up each year so just maintaining the department as it is currently means an increase of some sort. I believe there are many functions that are left to police right now that could be delivered more effectively by civilians, while leaving police to focus on the core law and order duties. That is going to take some time to figure out though. I don’t see supporting any sort of expanded budget at this point, but before I can consider reducing the budget to shift money to other areas, I want to see a plan. I was very pleased to support Councillor Mason’s motion. Policing is going to be one of the major challenges for the next Council to figure out.

Coun. Tony Mancini, District 6 — Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East:

If the 2021/22 fiscal year includes an established and approved plan for reallocating funds for non-policing services currently provided by police, I would support this reallocation of funds.  I recognize that police currently are responsible for many non-police activities including but not limited to mental health supports, wellness checks etc. I also recognize that there is a link between crime and access to supports for mental health, education, health care, addiction services etc.  Many of these supports fall under the responsibility of the provincial government.  There is, however, a role for municipal government in supporting community programs that provide safe places for youth, adequate recreational facilities and food security programs etc. all of which help in reducing criminal activity. I would be in support of a plan that addresses the reallocation of police funds to other municipal initiatives that target root causes of criminal activity.

Given our current situation and lack of established and approved plan for reallocating police funds, I would not support simply cutting the budget with no plan for replacing current services provided.  Implementation of any recommendations will have to be done in consultation with the police union and the province.

Coun. Waye Mason, District 7 — Halifax South Downtown:

I do not support cuts for cuts sake. I support the review of policing and public safety that my motion just launched. We need a plan for how to reform the delivery of public safety and policing.

Coun. Lindell Smith, District 8 — Halifax Peninsula North:

Yes, I would support a reduction if it meant that the money that is being reallocated is going to initiatives that support community which includes mental health/wellness, community building, anti-racism initiatives, social service supports etc.

Coun. Shawn Cleary, District 9 — Halifax West-Armdale:

I supported the reduction of $3.5 million to the police budget in 2020-2021. I brought the motion forward to cancel the police armoured vehicle and put that money into anti-Black racism initiatives. I will support a reallocation of funds from the current police budget to support non-police professionals, especially in the areas of addictions and mental health, community development, crossing guards, speeding tickets, etc. This would put expertise in place to deal with the complex issues of society that have been relegated to police only because no other system has yet been set up to deal with these activities. It can also bring more equity and allow for more effective de-escalation in these situations.

Coun. Kathryn Morse, District 10 — Halifax-Bedford Basin West:

I generally don’t support reducing budgets for important public services, especially without an alternative plan for delivering the services.  With the right plan in place, which could take a year or more to develop, I would support a reallocation of existing funding to improve policing services to better reflect community needs and diversity.  This could include enhancing training for police, more community policing, expanding collaborative teams working with police that would include mental health practitioners and social workers, improving transparency and accountability, and investing in technology such as automated speed enforcement systems for use in high traffic residential areas and school zones.

Coun. Patty Cuttell, District 11 — Spryfield-Sambro Loop-Prospect Road:

Yes, I would. We need to look at the cost of policing, the amount being charged to HRM for overtime, and how policing resources can be better used to address the changing needs of the city. Overall, crime in Halifax is going down, yet costs continue to increase. I think the entire policing strategy needs to be updated, with the focus on public safety, and better responses to issues of mental health and social inequity.

Coun. Iona Stoddard, District 12 — Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park-Wedgewood:

I would like to see a significant re-work of how the Halifax Regional Police use their budget. As a woman of colour, I have experienced many forms of racism. There must be education for the police to understand systemic racism and intergenerational effects of slavery and racism on Black Nova Scotians. They must receive education regarding racism against First Nations Peoples and the effects of colonialism and residential schools on their communities. This may mean partnering with the Black and First Nations Communities. This is beyond the scope of municipal council, but I would also like to see education for the entire justice system.

Coun. Pam Lovelace, District 13 — Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets:

Yes, I support a reduction of the $84 Million HRP budget. In addition, I want to see the contract with RCMP re-negotiated to determine the best use of our limited budget. The rural areas of Halifax are not being serviced adequately by police. Spending precious dollars for an officer to sit on the side of the road with a speed radar is not effective use of our budget and it’s certainly not a good use of their skills. There are more effective community and technology solutions, such as photo radars to catch and fine excessive speeders.

Public education is needed to address speeding, inappropriate and dangerous OHV/ATV use on roadways, drunk and inattentive driving. Police are not educators, therefore should not be expected to provide education programs to the public. In addition, police are not adequately trained to support complex mental health issues. The police budget should be reduced to provide dollars to embed community services alongside police. The harmful history of oppression by police against Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in Halifax must be acknowledged and resolved. The police culture must shift to provide dignity and respect to all.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, District 14 — Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville:

Yes, I do support a reduction. I want to see a reinvestment of some of that budget to other services that would handle non-policing calls for service. Our police/RCMP have too much on their plates and it’s time to share that burden with other professionals and orders of government.

Coun. Paul Russell, District 15 — Lower Sackville:

Policing is another complex issue, and budget is only part of it. We have to look at the service models and functions, and determine if they suit our population, before we can determine what changes are required for the budget. Do we have enough of an ability to respond to critical incidents? Are the police doing things that are non-police issues? Is there too much overtime that would be better financed by having additional staff, and thus paying straight time instead of overtime pay? Do we have enough proactive and community involvement measures in place so that we are reducing crime before it starts? Only once we determine how we can measure what the effective police force is can we determine if we should increase or decrease the budget for it. We also have to recognize that this measure is constantly changing. so we have to keep updating our evaluation of it.

Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit, District 16 — Bedford-Wentworth, ran unopposed, so we didn’t survey him.

For more on the councillors’ views on policing, we also reported on the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group’s survey:

“A majority of council candidates who responded to a survey from a local advocacy group are in favour of some broad reforms of policing in Halifax, and the results indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the municipality’s unique relationship with the RCMP.”

That story contains councillors’ responses to the working group’s survey questions.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Bizarro Politicians

    Sometimes I think my waking hours are spent in a Bizarro World. Especially when I discover the antics and lavish expenditures of these serial spendthrifts we have elected in all facets of government.

    Their goal should be making this country and its cities, towns, villages and hamlets better for “ALL” citizens; ethnically, economically,ecologically and environmentally. But no it appears they no longer represent or care about what the “people” need and want. The same “people”who elected them and foolishly believed the promises they made.I guess that’s what happens when we listen to the fictional stories we are told during campaigns and naively think they will follow through on their promises or at least try to. Once elected they form and follow their own agenda regardless. Is it not time for a signed and witnessed written contract which makes clear and explicit what they are going to do and the penalty for not fulfilling this covenant.

    To add to the frustration is the lack of weight public input has on many important often invasive and costly issues. When questioned about the lack of their consideration of public opinion; incumbents in effect state; public input does not really come into play as we the politicians will make the best decision for the people, just how does that make sense viewed through any of their often referred to lenses, maybe it does in Bizarro World but not in this one ? Should not the publics’ views always at the least be taken in consideration when important decisions that impact them are made.

    This really is an issue for concern as it certainly strays from the origins and intended purpose in the formation and evolution of these bodies way back in days of yore. Is this modern attitude not an affront to the original system guidelines it was designed to follow and does it not produce at times faint odours of egotism? Methinks this system has failed and it has reached its limitations and crashed.

    Additionally all these political bodies have been infected with Parkinson’s disease not the medical malady but the administrative one described by C.Northcote Parkinson in his book on business administration titled Parkinson’s law. This law in brief explains the division of power among those at the top and why they need a myriad of assistants,deputies etc. because they are unwilling to impart their knowledge and trust in one person for fear that one person would equal them in knowledge and would thus jeopardize their power and position.