Council votes against Halifax police budget increase
Activists asked for budget freeze. Police asked for budget increase for new staff. Neither got exactly what they asked for.
February 5, 2020, 10:00 pm ASTLast Updated: February 6, 2020, 9:54 am
Barely two weeks after an African Nova Scotian activist asked the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners to freeze the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) budget this year, regional council voted against the police’s request for additional funding.
During a budget committee meeting at city hall on Wednesday, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella presented his budget proposal, asking for funding that would pay for eight new staff positions. He said the police need these new positions to fill service gaps that have put added stress on current supervisors and officers.
Council voted to grant a little over $150,000 carried over from last year’s police budget, which would pay for two of the sergeant positions. They voted eight to six against providing an additional $486,900 for the other six positions requested.
District 8 Coun. Waye Mason was one of the eight who voted against the increase.
“Last year, and admittedly it was a different police chief [Jean-Michel Blais], [they] asked for a substantial increase and we were told that was it,” he said in an interview.
“We were told, ‘if you increase it next year, we won’t ask for more.’ It’s next year. They’re asking for more.”
Prior to the budget presentation, two members of the public spoke to council and asked them to freeze the funding.
El Jones reiterated points she made last month to the board of police commissioners when they looked at the budget. She said HRP still hasn’t begun to reconcile for the racial profiling they officially apologized for in November. She was followed by activist Suraka Saunders, who echoed Jones’s sentiments.
“You’ve been found violating black people’s rights and your response is to say you should get more money?” Jones said in an interview. “’I broke the law. Pay me,’ is what this is saying.”
Jones was disappointed in the questions councillors posed to Kinsella during the budget meeting. She felt no councilor pushed HRP enough on racial profiling.
“I think that shows a particular mindset on the part of this council which is, quite frankly, anti-black and disturbing.”
Mason said racial profiling didn’t factor strongly into his decision, but did say he empathized with what Jones and Saunders had to say. He said reconciliation between HRP and the African Nova Scotian community is important, but it will take time and shouldn’t affect all increases in police budgeting, especially when it comes to cost of living raises.
Lindell Smith, the only African Nova Scotian on city council, said HRP’s history of racial profiling wasn’t one of the major factors in his decision to vote against a budget increase either.
“I have to wear three hats. It’s the [police board] commission, the councillor and the community member, so there’s definitely an aspect of all three,” he said in an interview.
“But for me it really comes down to, how do we make decisions that not only impact the police in a positive way, but the community as well.”
Smith said he voted against the budget increase not to punish HRP, but in hopes they will be able to find room for the new staff they requested without additional funding.
Kinsella said he wouldn’t be requesting more money if it wasn’t necessary.
“This is really about gaps in supervision,” he said in his presentation. “Ultimately we need to provide adequate and effective policing.”
“We have a sexual assault team that is taxed with reports coming in.”
He said he wanted to add the new sergeant positions to relieve current sergeants. He said they’ve been taking on more work as crime reports increase.
HRP presented council with statistics that showed an increase in crime from 2016 to 2018. In a police commissioners board meeting last month, HRP presented more recent statistics that showed crime dropped a little more than two per cent in 2019.
Although HRP’s budget has increased steadily over the years, it has consistently remained between 20 and 23 per cent of HRM’s total budget.
Council also voted to add approximately $600,000 to the budget for the RCMP that patrol the municipality outside of HRP’s jurisdiction. The extra funding will go toward officer salaries. HRM funds 70 per cent of the RCMP’s budget, while the province covers the remaining 30 per cent.
The budgets for HRP and RCMP for 2020-21 will be approximately $89 million and $27.5 million, respectively. These budgets will be prepared for the official HRM budget in the spring.
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