A board of police commissioners meeting devolved into shouting Wednesday, with members of the public expressing frustration during a 4.5-hour meeting at being unable to fully voice their opposition to the police department’s request for more money.
Amy Siciliano, HRM’s public safety advisor, gave an update on the city’s public safety strategy. She outlined a series of programs, strategies and community work to do with food security, homelessness and public safety.
Commissioner Gavin Giles said he was concerned about actually getting these safety strategies into place.
“But tonight all of us know, and if we don’t know it, we bloody well should, that hundreds of people are going to be living outside when it’s going to be between minus six and minus ten and it’s supposed to be worse tomorrow. … It seems to me that the talk is great and the development of the programs are great but people are still living outside when it’s minus six,” said Giles.
Police chief Don MacLean then walked through the operating budget framework for 2024-25.
MacLean is asking for money for 24 new positions, at an annual cost of about $1.4 million. For example, adding 12 constables to the patrol division would cost about $725,100 in the first year.
In 2023-24, the operating net budget for Halifax Regional Police is $92,345,000. Without the new positions, in 2024-25 the budget is proposed to increase by 4.8 per cent, for a total of $96,743,400. Adding the new positions would see the budget increase by 6.3 per cent, making the total $98,132,100.
“We’re staffing at this particular time through overtime on a regular basis. We have to do something different, it’s not sustainable,” said MacLean.
The proposed increase met with opposition among public attendees.
District 11 resident Nancy Hunter spoke against the proposed budget to loud support.
“Our deep care for all people but specifically the growing number of people who are suffering severely, materially, physically, mentally, emotionally because of culture and structures that continue to do things like overfund police while underfunding the actual things that help keep us all safe. … It doesn’t even appear that the commission listens to anything we say or cares,” said Hunter.
Hunter then tried to talk about specific cases of how Halifax police “harm and traumatize many, many, many people in our communities.”
Giles intervened to say that this was off topic, since the meeting was specifically about the budget.
Chair Becky Kent began to re-state the intent of the public consultation, and the gallery yelled out “let her speak,” referring to Hunter.
Kent reminded everyone that the gallery was not allowed to interrupt the current speaker.
Hunter tried to resume, but again was stopped by the board for not keeping comments specific to the budget. Tensions began to rise again in the gallery.
“So I’ll talk the way you want to talk and then we’ll just keep going with the status quo, while more people are harmed, while more people are hungry, while more people are living in tents in this city and you just give the police whatever they want,” said Hunter to more applause.
However, Bea MacGregor the CEO of Alderney Landing, said she supported the budget increasing. She said she feels policing has helped make positive changes to Alderney Landing and those who use the facilities.
“I will say that crime lowered due to police. That we have seen consistent compassionate caring from the police,’ said MacGregor.
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Hannah is a fourth-year journalism student from Dartmouth. She enjoys storytelling and getting to meet interesting people.