Board narrowly supports 2.3% Halifax police budget hike, despite public pushback

Click to play video: 'Councillor Lindell Smith weighs in on recent report on defunding Halifax police, police budget'
Councillor Lindell Smith weighs in on recent report on defunding Halifax police, police budget
“We’re trying to balance what community wants to not see with what our police are saying they need in order to serve the municipality.” We talk with Halifax councillor and Halifax police board chair Lindell Smith to get reaction to this week’s detailed report on defunding the police and upcoming public consultation on the Halifax Regional Police budget for next year – Jan 20, 2022

Halifax’s police board held a public hearing Monday ahead of its vote on Halifax Regional Police’s proposal for a 2.3 per cent budget increase.

The request amounts to just over $2 million for the 2022-2023 budget, and would be used in part to hire 26 new officers, including two sexual assault constables and two hate crimes detectives.

Chief Dan Kinsella told the board that sexual assault reporting has increased and new hires are needed for the workload.

Monday’s public hearing, which was held virtually, was first for the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. Members of the public were able to make presentations before commissioners questioned the chief.

The majority of speakers spoke out against the proposed increase, with some saying it is simply not the time.

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“In fact, I think we should have a moratorium on police increases until we have our own house in order,” said presenter Nancy Hunter.

Several speakers pointed out that the budget increase request comes just as the city is examining the issue of defunding police. On Jan. 17, a report prepared for the police board by a 14-member subcommittee made 36 recommendations on police practices, oversight and accountability.

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However, the subcommittee said it did not have enough data to recommend a specific amount to be cut from the police budget.

The police board tasked the committee to conduct its review in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., by a police officer. That incident caused a movement to “defund the police” in the United States, which influenced activists in Canada.

During Monday’s meeting, at least one presenter said approving the budget increase might “negate” the work of the police defunding subcommittee.

“In my opinion, this is not a good investment,” said Kate Macdonald.

“Literally, people have been crying out for policing to be defunded and here we are having a conversation about a budget increase.”

Click to play video: 'Report on defunding Halifax police calls for reform'
Report on defunding Halifax police calls for reform

Among its recommendations, the report called for “detasking,” which would remove certain functions from the police, such as responding to mental health calls. Those calls would instead be given to teams composed of civilians. It concluded that the current model of mental health crisis intervention in the Halifax Regional Municipality is “outdated and no longer aligned with best practices.”

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Tanisha Williams, who spoke at Monday’s meeting, said the need for detasking was shown on Aug. 18, 2021, when officers forcibly removed residents of a homeless encampment in a chaotic scene that led to arrests and a child being pepper sprayed.

“Issues such as (homelessness), overdoses, gender-based violence need to be allocated to appropriate organizations,” said Williams, who was at the eviction.

The vote at the end of Monday’s meeting, to increase the HRP budget by 2.3 per cent, passed with four board members voting yes and three voting no.

Those who voted yes were: Yemi Akindoju, Anthony Thomas, Becky Kent and Lisa Blackburn.

Commissioners who voted no were: Lindell Smith, Harry Critchley and Carole McDougall.

This vote however does not mean that the budget is approved. Halifax Regional Council’s budget committee will have to approve it in a meeting later this month.

— with a file from The Canadian Press

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