Nova Scotia

Businesses criticize Halifax police budget cuts

The move to eliminate surveillance cameras and the mounted horse unit in downtown Halifax is being criticized by some community members.

Bike patrol, mounted horse unit may be cut

Cruise is one of two horses in the Halifax Regional Police mounted unit. (CBC)

The move to eliminate surveillance cameras in downtown Halifax is not going over well with the business community.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Frank Beazley presented a preliminary budget to the board of police commissioners on Monday.

If that budget is passed by regional council, downtown surveillance cameras, the city's bike patrol and the mounted horse unit are among the services that will be eliminated.

"I think it's absurd that they want to cut that — it's a stupid idea," said Cadence Macmichael, the owner of Pretty Things Boutique in downtown Halifax.

"We all know that there's been problems downtown with violence and drinking and whatnot. It feels like they are taking away some of the safety and security by doing that."

There are six cameras in the downtown Halifax area, including one on the corner of Blowers and Grafton streets. The area, known as "Pizza Corner," often serves the late-night bar crowd once licensed establishments have closed for the evening.

The older surveillance camera models use data lines that cost the police force about $15,000 each year.

Paul MacKinnon, the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, called the move "disappointing."

"I think the savings are very small and I think it sends the wrong message," he told CBC News.

"It's taking eyes away from the streets downtown and we want to convey that the downtown is actually a safe place to be."

Even though the wages for the police force will increase by about $3 million, Beazley is asking for $71.9 million — an increase of only $100,000 from the last budget.

He has pledged to keep the same number of officers on the streets.

Beazley said the cameras are nice to have, but when times are tough, it's better to use the money to maintain the size of the police force.

"When you're looking for about $2.4 million to rationalize within the budget, some things had to go," Beazley told reporters on Monday.

"What I won't be doing is some of the extra things that I was able to do in the past."

Mounted unit also in danger of cuts

Coun. Sue Uteck, a member on the board of police commissioners, is throwing her support behind saving the horses — one of the items deemed an extra expense.

"You're telling me that you can't find $15,000 for two horses in a $74 million budget? I find that just a little tough to swallow," she said Tuesday.

The Halifax Regional Police mounted unit was first established in 1869. There are currently two horses on patrol: Sarge and Cruise. The animals are primarily used to increase police visibility and at events that require crowd control.

"I like to see them on the street, I think that's a good thing. You know, we need them here. Let's cut somewhere else, let's not cut that," said Valerie Fralick.

But other citizens disagreed.

"They probably were effective in the past but in today's age, it's probably a good place to start to cut costs," said Chris Buvis.

The budget will come back to the commission next month before heading to Halifax regional council in mid-March.

Council will have the final say on the police budget. But it can only reject the proposal and send it back to the commission, not tweak it.

Uteck said she's hoping a corporate partnership can be arranged to keep the mounted unit.

"I've reached out to a few people just via Facebook to contact regional police," she said.

"I've asked them, 'Do you know of any corporate contacts in the community that would be interested in sponsoring these horses?'"

If no corporate support comes forward and the budget is accepted as it's presented, Beazley said the horses will be sold or donated to a community group.