If I had to pick an image to sum up my visits to the Board of Police Commissioners, it would be this one:

I’m the kitty.

My so-far futile yet determined efforts to engage with our democratic institutions continued on Monday, as I attended the latest Board of Police Commissioners meeting. On January 20, I called for the board to freeze the budget for the police until they show they have taken serious action to end racial profiling, hold the police accountable for brutality, and until the police meet the demands of the Black community. This effort predictably failed, and on Wednesday, city council gave the Halifax Regional Police another budget increase.

The Board releases the agenda for their meetings on Friday. If you want to speak, you are supposed to ask to be on the agenda by Wednesday. Public presentations are directed to be relevant to the topics being discussed by the board, except we don’t know what the board will be talking about until after we have to sign up to speak.

I know I joke about my Negrodamus-like abilities to predict the actions of people in authority, but even I am not clairvoyant. Sitting through a police board meeting when you can’t speak or ask questions or argue is like when you’re watching a movie and a man with a knife comes up behind the character and you want to scream “Look behind you!” but you’re in public, and also they can’t hear you anyway.

At one point, an involuntary “oh my God!” did escape me, when the Board was reviewing its work plans and self-assessments, and it was suggested that, for example, it would be worth asking if everyone had “read the manual.”

An institution takes up 22% of the municipal budget, is authorised to detain and use force against people, and the people who are responsible for oversight might not have read the manual?

On the agenda for Monday was a survey commissioned by the police to canvas the attitudes and perceptions of diverse communities towards the police. These are the moments where you wish you were too short to board the rides at Neoliberal World. It’s a theme park that costs too much, and all the games are rigged. In this focus-grouped, branded, consultant-heavy world, it seems to make perfect sense to people that even though there were surveys in 2014 and 2018 about attitudes towards the police, and even though we don’t seem to know those results, and even though the Wortley report comprehensively canvassed the African Nova Scotian community, and even though the media also ran multiple polls, it is extremely important that we do another survey to really figure out how people perceive the police.

Or rather, it’s really important that we do this survey to ask people questions about which questions they think they should be asked about the police in future surveys. You see, this survey is really important so we can set a “baseline”about what surveys to do so then we can do more surveys.

I know I sound sarcastic and flippant in these articles, but there’s a point where humour is really the only response to these bizarre happenings that everyone else seems to receive as normal. We need a tank because we used to have access to a tank and we never used it, so therefore we need another tank and we shouldn’t worry if it will be turned against protestors because we never use it which is why it’s a good investment. And we need surveys to ask people what they should be asked so we can ask people what they feel about being asked about what they perceive.

I keep coming back to this, but in the face of decades of evidence, reports, and legal opinions about what the police actually do, the police think it’s important to ask people what they perceive. This is actually quite similar to how they kept insisting that the problem wasn’t racial profiling, it was our “perception” of racial profiling.

This is the Disneyland school of policing, where the imitation of the real is realer than the real itself — what people feel and think and perceive is somehow more important than evidence of how the police behave.

I mean, maybe instead of beating people up at Walmart we should just assign the police to do surveys all day. I’m okay with that.

What actually happens if, say, 80% of people in Halifax say they don’t trust the police? Do we get to get rid of the police and do something else? Or will they still get more budget every year, bigger and bigger weapons, and advanced surveillance technology anyway?

The cynical view that I can’t help taking is that the police are looking for some kind of different answers than those in the Wortley report, like when the media does surveys asking things like “Scalping Mi’kmaq people. Kiss or diss?” And then they report that a majority of people in Halifax are cool with scalping, as long as it’s historical scalping, so maybe the people that aren’t okay with scalping are just a fringe, radical group. On the one hand, a former chief justice of the province rendered a legal opinion that racial profiling is illegal. On the other hand, Joe in Sackville trusts the police because they ticketed someone who violated the parking ban, so shouldn’t they both be equally weighted? After all, they’re both opinions. Let’s go with what Joe thinks.

I wish I knew how much this survey costs, but unfortunately, that was neither asked nor answered in the meeting. I do know a lot about the upcoming RCMP basketball game in North Preston though, and also that a dog arrested someone last week. Anyone doing a survey of police dog perspectives on the police?

More seriously, Chief Kinsella also announced that the police plan to purge the data from street checks by December 2020. What the African Nova Scotian community has actually requested is that the data be “firewalled” so that the police can’t access or use it, but so that the evidence is preserved. If people want to access their data to prove they were profiled, they won’t be able to do so after this year.

Chief Kinsella also reported that he continues to consult with the African Nova Scotian community, who are supposed to consult for free while the police pay Narrative Research to also consult. Sure, why not, it’s Black History Month.

I don’t know, man. Maybe next meeting I’ll come with a proposal about how we should really think about getting police cats. Sure, it will take some extra budget, and a few years of feasibility and best practices studies, but I think it’s worth it. This study of using cats will set a baseline, as it were, for future use of other animals like sloths and otters. Even if we don’t use the cats, it’s good that we will have access to the cats and can not use them when we choose to.

It’s all about the policy innovations in policing in 2020.

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El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Thanks for exposing these shadowy corners of our police force, El. I imagine they’ve enjoyed working more or less behind closed doors for many decades and it will take a while for them to understand that it’s a new era. So happy to have the Examiner and the NS Advocate looking into this.

    1. Feel free to imagine all you want…..or you can read the minutes of the Board.
      And you can read the ‘Manual’ which describes the role and responsibilities of the Board…. and thus avoid the cheap shots of too many ‘writers’ who dash off a few hundred words without taking the time to understand what the Board does.
      Or you can ask your councillor to arrange a meeting with the Chief and your community in Bedford, Dartmouth or Halifax.
      Chief Kinsella has already had two community meetings in Dartmouth and is open to any invitation.

  2. Commissioner Thomas once again failed to attend the meeting. Since his appointment by the province he has failed to attend 50% of the meetings and when he does attend a meeting he very rarely speaks.

  3. As a white person and in the majority, I will say I don’t get hassled by police but then isn’t that what the commission is counting on?

    Utilitarianism and democracy at its worst.

  4. So wait, you’re the 8 lb kitty, and the two armored cops with assault rifles (fun fact: Hitler actually invented the term “assault rifle” to describe the revolutionary Sturmgewehr 44 automatic rifle, which the Russians later copied and marketed as the AK-47) are being nice to you even though they would probably win in a fight?

    I don’t know either. Maybe we should have courses on obscure WW2 trivia. It would provide employment to aimless millenials who spent more hours watching The History Channel than they did in university, even though they have degrees. It’s a better idea than buying HRP a tank, and I’m personally volunteering (as long as a fat salary is attached) to waffle on about such minutiae as the conflicts between leading German aircraft designers and the fight over the available supply of aircraft engines during 39-45.