Halifax’s budget committee has narrowly rejected a roughly $2 million increase to the Halifax Regional Police budget, instead sending a proposed smaller increase back to the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners.
On Friday, the budget committee capped any increase in the police budget at just under $1.4 million more than a targeted total budget of $87,830,000 set by financial staff. This would result in a budget increase of $413,050 over the previous year, rather than the nearly $2 million asked for by police.
The first step in the budget approval process was narrowly passed by the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners on Jan. 31. The proposed increase would have pushed HRP’s budget to more than $90 million — $2.9 million more than the target and just under $1.98 million more than last year’s budget.
That decision came after the board heard from 20 members of the public, widely calling for the proposed funds to be reinvested in community and social supports.
Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella has repeatedly stated that the money would be used in the 2022-2023 budget to fund much-needed service enhancements, which would include hiring 26 new officers. Those officers would include two sexual assault constables and two hate crimes detectives.
Last month, a committee tasked with defining how to defund Halifax Regional Police produced an extensive report with recommendations on police practices, oversight and accountability. The subcommittee that wrote the report didn’t include any specific budget cuts, citing insufficient data.
During the meeting Friday, of which more than an hour was spent in camera, several members of the budget committee thanked both the police and the residents who made their voices heard.
Coun. Waye Mason stressed that he was not “anti-police” but said he could not support the $2 million increase.
He said a well-functioning police force is important for communities and also acknowledged the “harms and traumas” brought up by community members who oppose the budget increase.
“I think the board (of police commissioners) needs to dig deeper into how to use existing resources to understand how overtime is being used and come back with a more modest ask,” he said.
“We’re only months after the defund police report that lays out options for the board and for council to consider detasking and retasking the police.”
Coun. Pam Lovelace thanked police for their service but also said she could not support the budget.
“The time to change policing is now. We have to do it now,” she said.
“We have the defunding report, we’ve read it, we’ve heard from constituents, we know we have issues on the ground in our communities and in our police forces that need to be addressed, and I’m not convinced that adding more bodies is the right thing to do.”
Coun. Becky Kent, however, said while the defending report was “tremendous,” it’s going to take time to implement changes and it would be “unreasonable” to expect that to happen quickly.
“This report is so important that it needs us to take the time that we need as a collective to do this right,” she said. “We need to unpack it, dissect it and then create a plan forward.”
She said the eventual goal is to retask, “refund” and reallocate, but said more time is needed to get it right.
Kent said the municipality has an obligation to keep officers safe, which is why she voted at the board to increase staffing.
Defunding ‘not the answer,’ councillor says
Coun. Iona Stoddard said as a woman of colour, she relates to some of the concerns brought up by community members, but she doesn’t believe “defunding the police is the answer.”
Stoddard said the report on the matter needs more discussion, however, she said she doesn’t support the budget increase.
Meanwhile, Coun. Sam Austin said he would support budgetary increases to keep up with things like wage increases and “keep the department as it is while we figure out how we’re going to change.”
However he finds the latest ask “pretty hard to justify.”
“Our police force is facing pressure, but I’m not entirely convinced that the case has been made that more bodies is the solution,” he said.
Coun. David Hendsbee said he fully supported the original budget increase, suggesting the recent convoy occupation of downtown Ottawa was a result of under resourcing.
He said he wants to ensure Halifax Regional Police have the resources needed to adequately fill positions and ensure safety for officers.
“This whole defund the police movement, I get offended by the word ‘defund,’ I’d rather see other words … ‘defund’ in my opinion has negative connotations,’” he said.
“If you want to talk about retasking of certain aspects of policing, I think we need to talk to our provincial partners in policing.”
He said the general public needs to “realize council do not control the police,” and said things like mental health, addictions and victim services are within the purview of the provincial government.
“There are too many things being asked of our police that they don’t have the proper resources for,” he said.
In the end, Coun. Tony Mancini made a motion to send the budget back to the Board of Police Commissioners, bringing the proposed increase down to $1,393,850 over a target set by financial staff.
This new proposed amount could pay for 12 new patrol officers, one member reintegration constable and half of the requested emergency response co-ordinators — however, how the money would be spent would ultimately be up to the board.
The motion narrowly passed 9-8, with councillors Paul Russell, Cathy Deagle Gammon, Becky Kent, Sam Austin, Patty Cuttell, Iona Stoddard, Pam Lovelace and Lisa Blackburn voting against.
The new proposed increase will be referred back to the board of police commissioners, which has a meeting scheduled Monday. The budget will then return to Halifax council, ideally by March 15.
— with files from Alexa MacLean