The Halifax board of police commissioners met Thursday with a full agenda of items dealing with public safety, including a presentation on how to defund the police while examining the feasibility of suiting police officers with body cameras.
Amy Siciliano, the public safety advisor with the Halifax Regional Municipality, along with DeRico Symonds, a youth advocate program manager with the municipality, gave a presentation on defunding police.
The movement toward defunding police has been at the forefront of public attention since the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis, Symonds said in his presentation.
“This isn’t just a conversation that Halifax is having, it’s a local and global conversation,” he said.
Symonds referenced Halifax council’s decision to cancel the purchase of a controversial armoured police vehicle and instead relocate and split the funds between the municipality’s office of diversity and inclusion, its public safety office and fighting anti-Black racism.
The police board of commissioners debated the definition of defunding the police, which Symonds says can vary depending on your social and financial situation.
“Depending on who you are or where you are and what position and where you are positioned in the community, you may have a particular definition around what it means to defund the police,” said Symonds. “For me and Amy (Siciliano), it’s around reallocating money from police and reinvesting into… mental health supports, education, social services, housing, prevention programming, anti-racist education, food security and alternatives to community policing.”
Siciliano said defunding the police means examining a complete shift in thinking in terms of crime prevention methods.
“Most who come into contact with the criminal justice system are marginalized or vulnerable,” said Siciliano. “The criminal justice system as a whole disproportionately harms Indigenous and Black communities and those experiencing mental health issues.”
Issues with police and marginalized groups have a long history in Nova Scotia, which was highlighted in criminologist Scot Wortley’s 180-page report on street checks that was tabled last year.
The Wortley report was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and analyzed over of decade of police data that showed that Black Nova Scotians were five times more likely to be street-checked than white citizens.
Coun. Lindell Smith pointed to what other cities are doing when it comes to defunding the police and reallocating funds, such as New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to cut the police services budget by US$1 billion.
Smith said he believes HRM’s public safety office is underfunded and could benefit from a reallocation of funds from the police budget.
“For New York to realize how important it is to look at that, outside of COVID, is also really important and I think it’s important for us,” said Smith.
The meeting went left a long list of agenda items sitting on the debate table. The virtual board meeting stalled from the outset, as technical issues stifled the conversation, delaying the meeting by nearly an hour.
Procedural issues and debate around rules of order further stalled the conversation.
Major items were left untouched, like the motion tabled by Coun. Tony Mancini, requesting a report by staff to examine the feasibility of suiting officers with body cameras.
Another motion tabled by Mancini that requested that Halifax police Chief Dan Kinsella and Halifax RCMP chief superintendent Janice Gray provide a written update detailing the status of the Wortley report recommendations was also left out of the conversation.
The board voted to move all agenda items over to its next meeting, scheduled for July 20.