As city councillors in Minneapolis vow to dismantle that city’s police force, calls are growing here at home for a similar overhaul.
Over the past few days, Halifax Regional Municipality District 5 Councillor Sam Austin says he’s been fielding an “unprecedented” number of emails, calling for the municipality to defund the Halifax police and reverse course on its purchase of an armoured vehicle.
“At its peak, we were getting basically an email every two or three minutes,” Austin tells Global News, calling it an “unprecedented” amount of emails.
“The emails coming into us was, ‘You can’t possibly cut police and fire these are essential services,’ so that’s turned on a dime in terms of who in the public is reaching out to us and what the concern is being expressed.”
Kate MacDonald is in favour of defunding police, saying it’s not about not funding the service, but about re-imagining the current justice system.
“Revisiting their budget, their operational funds, and reinvesting money into community initiatives,” she says.
“Why don’t we have more crisis outreach workers? Why aren’t people more well-versed in de-escalation or cultural competency? The answer can’t be policing, because people are dying.”
Longtime activist Raymond Sheppard agrees.
“I don’t think all individuals of the Halifax police force are racist, I just think there’s a hotbed of them,” he says.
“I think cultural competency training can help, as one thing. Two, I think there needs to be major discipline.”
District 6 Councillor Tony Mancini, who also sits on the Board of Police Commissioners, agrees a restructuring is needed.
“I think the Board of Police Commission has to have more influence and authority than it does now,” says Mancini.
“Also, we need to train officers differently. We need to educate them differently. The de-escalation of situations need to be trained, and I’m not sure how much of that is being trained right now.”
Halifax Regional Police chief Dan Kinsella originally proposed a $5.5 million cut in spending to offset the costs that COVID-19 incurred on the city’s finances.
That proposal was re-visited, as many feared it would compromise community safety. Mancini asked Kinsella to look at the impact of a $4.5 million and a $3.5 million budget reduction before moving the board’s recommendation.
“I’m fearful if we cut more than $3.5 million, $5.5 million — or even more, as some people are suggesting ê that would be very concerning from a safety perspective right now,” says Mancini.
“I’m really not comfortable removing money from the police budget with no plan as to what that alternative is,” says Austin.
“It will take the municipality some time to take a look and see what we can actually do instead.”
That said, Austin says he and his fellow councilors are hearing the calls for change loud and clear.
“I expect there will be some motions coming out of this over the next couple weeks at council and at the Board of Police Commission,” he says.
Councillors are scheduled to deliberate on the municipal budget Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.