Nova Scotia

Residents urge Halifax council to reject police budget increase

Community members who addressed Halifax regional council Wednesday unanimously opposed the proposed $2-million increase to the 2022-23 municipal policing budget, citing concerns such as the police's handling of removing temporary housing shelters last summer.

20 members of the public who spoke before council opposed a $2M increase in police funding

Halifax regional council cannot make changes to the police budget, but were meeting to determine whether to accept the proposed budget or send it back to the police commission. ( Robert Short/CBC)

Community members who addressed Halifax regional council Wednesday unanimously opposed the proposed $2-million increase to the 2022-23 municipal policing budget, citing concerns such as the police's handling of removing temporary housing shelters last summer.

The budget of $90.8 million — just over $2 million more than the existing budget — was narrowly passed by the board of police commissioners in January. The extra money would be used to hire 25 new officers and nine new civilians.

Council cannot make changes to the budget, but were meeting to determine whether to accept the proposed budget or send it back to the police commission.

Twenty members of the public had five minutes each to voice their concerns. They urged council to reject the budget increase, with many citing the recent report on defunding the police, alleged systemic racism within the police force and concerns about police handling of the protests surrounding the removal of temporary housing shelters last August.

"There is a clear movement to defund the police," said resident Nina Cherry. "And I just think it would be counterintuitive to be adding more money to the police budget when we have seen so much harm caused by the Halifax Regional Police."

Citizen Lou Campbell said public safety won't increase and crime won't decrease with increased police funding.

"Crime is going to be reduced by getting to the source — reallocating funding where it is needed most," he said.

Budget lacking detail and clarity

Many of the speakers argued the money would be more effective if used to fund community services and supports for those dealing with a mental health crisis, experiencing homelessness or sexual assault.

Other community members expressed concern with the lack of clarity and detail in the budget proposal.

Jamie Livingston, a criminology professor at Saint Mary's University, said he was disappointed the commission had passed the budget and had serious concerns the increase had not been adequately justified.

He said the budget passed with incomplete information, "flimsy justification" and "selective representation of crime trends."

Meeting adjourned before decision made

After presentations from the public, the budget was presented to council by Coun. Lindell Smith of the board of police commissioners, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella and acting RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell.

While Halifax Regional Police are requesting 34 new positions, Campbell said the RCMP are not asking for staffing increases this year.

"Halifax District RCMP are making significant efforts toward listening to the communities we serve," Campbell said.

He pointed to the RCMP's community listening survey and said they plan to use the results to examine and modify their services.

Campbell said RCMP are examining the defund the police report, and anticipate the Mass Casualty Commission's recommendations may lead to operational and administrative changes, such as combined critical incident response requirements for all police services in Nova Scotia.

Council briefly took the debate in camera and the meeting was adjourned without a decision. The public debate will resume Friday morning.

Kinsella said in December that the budget increase was needed because staffing levels for the force have essentially remained the same for the past 10 years. He said long-term absences have led to reassignments and overtime that is "not sustainable."

"We are in a crisis, we are in dire straits, we need to be able to make sure that we staff the front line," said Kinsella.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rose Murphy is a reporter for CBC Nova Scotia. You can contact her at rose.murphy@cbc.ca.

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