Police working security nothing new, but more clarity needed, board chair says
The chair of Halifax's police board says more clarity is needed around the city's policy for extra duty employment, a program where officers are paid an hourly rate by private companies, public bodies or events to work security in full uniform outside their working hours.
The Halifax Examiner first reported last week that police — armed and in uniform — have been patrolling Superstore locations in Halifax Regional Municipality outside of their regular shifts in recent weeks. Some customers voiced their concerns to CBC.
Coun. Lindell Smith, chair of the board of police commissioners, said Halifax police working private security outside their regular shifts has been happening for years. "We're used to seeing police doing extra duty related to street closures and events."
He said an increase in theft has led more businesses to opt into the extra duty program.
"I can understand there are definitely demographics who would be concerned walking into a store and seeing police," Smith said. "But I'm not aware of where police were being hired to do extra duty and monitor where issues have come out of that."
Nova Scotia's police act stipulates that municipal police boards establish a written policy for extra duty employment, but HRM's policy isn't publicly available.
Smith said more public information on the details of the policy is needed to understand the limitations of the extra duty program, like whether they are empowered to use force and who can hire them.
Const. John MacLeod, HRP's public information officer, said extra duty officers cost $79.78 per hour.
"Business, organizations, public and private events can place requests for officers to conduct policing duties on or near their facilities and are responsible for the associated costs," he said.
Extra duty 'pervasive' but public awareness low
Kevin Walby, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Winnipeg, said virtually every police service in North America has an extra duty program, but they don't widely advertise.
"Private buyers or sometimes even public buyers, they'll call that office and they'll say, 'I need some extra duty officers for the football game or the hockey game or a parade,'" Walby said, adding that members of the public often aren't aware the officers aren't on normal duty.
"Increasingly, we see big box stores calling them and saying, 'No, rather than private security, I want public police."
He said, for example, an officer could work 50 regular hours in a week and take on an additional 20 hours of extra duty.
"When are they sleeping?" he said. "Do we want people who aren't sleeping walking around with guns and being in charge of life and death decisions?"
Walby said the extra duty employment is "pervasive" and in some cases, represents as much as half of an officer's income.
Earlier this year, Halifax regional council narrowly approved a $1.2-million budget increase for HRP after Chief Dan Kinsella told the police board that people in the department were "overworked" and "exhausted."
Smith said the number of hours officers work off duty is the "most concerning aspect" of extra duty policing.
Officers posted at NSLC locations, too
The NSLC has also posted officers in several of its Halifax and Dartmouth stores, citing a 130 per cent increase in thefts in the area in the last two years.
"The primary driver behind this is the safety and the well-being of our employees," NSLC spokesperson Beverley Ware said, adding that employees have expressed feelings of stress and anxiety due to "increasingly aggressive" behaviour from certain customers.
"This is an approach that we had taken a number of years ago when we had also experienced a dramatic increase in thefts."
Ware said theft numbers will be monitored to assess the success of the program.
Frustration among 'buyers'
Walby said interviews with 200 buyers of extra duty across North America suggested there was a lot of frustration among buyers of extra duty police officers, who thought they would be more effective than private security guards.
"They said, 'OK, we'll pay more for public police, but then the public police get there and they can't tell them what to do," he said, adding that he's doubtful more police in stores leads to less theft.
"If you need safety, why not go to the root cause of the transgression, you know, hunger, poverty?" he said. "They have needs that aren't being met by our society. Police aren't going to meet those needs."
Smith said he hopes to get more clarity on HRP's extra duty policy at the next board of police commissioners meeting early next month. He said he'd like to see the extra duty policy be made available online for the public.
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