Halifax residents denounce proposed budget increase for city police

More than 50 people gathered at Alderney Landing on Monday for a special Board of Police Commissioners meeting on the Halifax Regional Police budget. (Haley Ryan/CBC - image credit)
More than 50 people gathered at Alderney Landing on Monday for a special Board of Police Commissioners meeting on the Halifax Regional Police budget. (Haley Ryan/CBC - image credit)

Dozens of Halifax residents have told the city's police oversight board they are against a proposed budget increase for the Halifax Regional Police, with many pointing to ideas from a recent report on defunding the police as a better way forward.

The force is asking for a $6-million increase to bring its 2023-24 budget to $95.2 million.

"We should fund literally anything else," Kate MacDonald of Cole Harbour said during the special meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners at Alderney Landing Monday evening, which saw more than 50 people attend.

Many of the nearly 30 speakers at the meeting said they felt like they were repeating comments from last year's police budget meeting, in which a $2-million increase was proposed. Despite opposition at the time, the board approved the increase, granting Halifax police a $89.2-million budget.

Chief Dan Kinsella of the Halifax Regional Police talked about how police feeling pressure from the province's housing and health-care crises. He said they are seeing increased mental-health calls in recent years that tie up their members for hours waiting in hospital.

This led many to question why funding is not going toward root issues of crime like poverty and housing insecurity — or the city's Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team, which includes health professionals alongside officers.

Resident Debbie Finney said it seems like police have far too many responsibilities, and said mental-health calls should only be handled by medical professionals which was one of the recommendations from last year's report on defunding the police.

"I do believe that there's something different that's going on here than police just needing money. They need a better job description," Finney said.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Nancy Hunter, a Spryfield resident, said the budget request is especially tough to handle at a time when many Nova Scotians are struggling financially amid rising inflation and stagnant rates of income assistance.

"It's a bit of … gall to ask for $6 million in this time," Hunter said.

Many speakers had concerns about racism in the force and the continued mistreatment of people of colour.

2019 report showed that Black people were street checked at a rate six times higher than white people in Halifax.

Others said HRP have not shown empathy when dealing people who are homeless, bringing up how officers handled evicting people from homeless encampments in August 2021.

"I don't want my tax money being used to fund violence and negligence — and to be frank, absolute incompetence with situations with any kind of care or nuance," said north-end resident Lou Campbell.

Campbell also addressed Kinsella's comments about how anti-police sentiment in recent years has hurt recruitment efforts across Canada.

"Your actions are responsible for that and it's based on the way you treat the community. We don't want more police who get paid six figures to hurt us."

A 2018 report by CBC demonstrated that 70 per cent of people who died in fatal encounters with the police struggled with mental health issues or substance abuse, or both.

Haley Ryan/CBC
Haley Ryan/CBC

Other residents, like Maura Vale, cited various studies that show increased police numbers do not lead to low crime rates.

"It is not fiscally or socially responsible to increase the HRP budget when we have better solutions at hand," Vale said.

Force asks for 5 new positions

Kinsella said the $6-million increase is largely due to a bump in officer salaries thanks to a new contract, but also the creation of five new positions, including an in-house psychologist and a new hate-crime detective.

Victoria Levack, a Halifax disability advocate who uses a wheelchair, said she did not want public money funding mental-health support for the police force when people across the province are struggling with underfunded services.

"For once in history I hope the people in power do not get everything they ask for," Levack said.

Paniz Khosroshahy, a lawyer and Halifax resident, raised questions about HRP's hate-crime unit, including why the force has not been transparent about what specific offences they are investigating or the demographics of those involved.

"Using policing to address hate crimes is not new and innovative and frankly … does not actually work," Khosroshahy said.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Dave Wilson of St. Margarets Bay was the lone voice for the increase, saying most police members he's met are professional. While there is the odd "bad apple" in policing, how forces address those people is what's important, he said.

"I think if they need the money, they should get it," Wilson said.

Coun. Becky Kent, who is the board chair, said she understands that people are still worried about increased police funding and not seeing changes.

"Every time people speak to us it helps us understand their lived experiences, their concerns — and so I think tonight was a good thing," Kent said after the meeting.

The police commissioners moved their debate on the budget to a future virtual meeting which will happen in next few weeks. Anyone who didn't speak will get an opportunity.

The board can then make changes to the budget or send it through as it is to regional council for approval.