$28K spent on rewards for officers quadruples Halifax police's swag budget
Halifax Regional Police spent more on branded merchandise last year than in previous 4 years
The Halifax Regional Police gives away a lot of merchandise to the public branded with its logo — everything from temporary tattoos to USB sticks — but it's the gifts the department gives its own officers that made 2018 so costly.
The department spent more on swag last year than it has in the previous four years, shelling out $57,798.49 between Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request.
In all of 2017, the force spent $14,091.74.
The bulk of the extra expense in 2018 — $28,157.22 — came from buying 3,000 so-called challenge coins.
The toonie-sized coins are emblazoned with the HRP logo and awarded to officers "when an individual makes it into a specific unit or there's been a recognition of a special achievement," said Const. John MacLeod, a spokesman for the Halifax Regional Police.
The department, which had an operating budget of $86 million for 2017-2018, has bought challenge coins in three of the last five years.
In 2017, 500 coins were purchased for $2,810.51, making them the most expensive merchandise bought that year. In 2014, a mix of challenge coins, boxes and sleeves were also bought at a cost of $1,173.22.
The cost per coin has increased dramatically in recent years, with a single coin costing jumping in price to $9.38 in 2018 from $5.62 in 2017.
"When you are purchasing certain items like that, it does become beneficial to buy them in bulk orders rather than in smaller ones when you can get a reduced price per item. Then you can use them over multiple years," said MacLeod.
Merchandise isn't limited to challenge coins as a reward for officers. MacLeod said items are often given away at events to members of the public as an ice-breaker.
In 2014, the force allocated $16,894.34 for 10,000 reflective arm bands and $5,293.56 for 600 teddy bears. The next year it spent $906.05 on 50 paperweights and $359.16 on golf balls. In 2016, the force bought 50,000 temporary tattoos at a cost of $3,650.01.
The force also purchased a range of travel mugs, water bottles, shirts, pencils and highlighters.
Ramesh Venkat, a marketing professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said interacting with the public by handing out merchandise "sort of humanizes" the police and can make officers appear approachable.
"There's been all kinds of stories and things happening over the last few years involving the police force, and some good things and some not so good things," he said.
"I think this is maybe a way of sort of, you know, building their brand."
Most police forces have personalized merchandise, with some detachments even operating gift shops in their stations, said Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association.
However, in many other police departments, the merchandise isn't purchased by the force.
"The merchandise will be either donated or supported by a community group on behalf of the police department so they're not actual operational police dollars that are going into producing different types of merchandise," said Stamatakis, whose organization represents police personnel from across the country.
The extra costs in 2018 don't rankle MacLeod.
He said most of the merchandise the force buys is given to people in the community, especially children, and is a valuable tool that helps foster goodwill with residents and is worth the money.
"Any time we can have positive engagements with the community it's certainly a worthwhile endeavour."