Speaking Notes on Police Budget

Check against delivery

I cannot support the proposed increase to the HRP base budget at this time.

I am not anti-police, though I do recognize the harms and trauma that we’ve heard from residents, these are very real experiences and must concern all of us.

I also recognize how important well-functioning and well-supported police are to our community and recognize how important it is that during this time, we have to do a lot of work to address both these issues.

I recognize that there are real pressures on the HRP budget and personnel, similar to the challenges we face across all business units after two years of pandemic, and arguably much worse. I think that does need to be addressed.

But I think the Board needs to dig in deeper to find out how existing resources can be used better, to understand how overtime is being uses, and come back with a more modest ask.

The defund report lays out options for the Board and Council to consider to detask and retask the police, and to create civilian alternatives in a variety of areas, especially mental health response. I support it, though I recognize the details of this are a lot of work that will take time.

Lee-Ann Poole spoke on Wednesday, and made a great summary of this effort – she said: “In many instances, it means supporting the police by detasking them as they have been hugely over tasked and it’s not fair, and they will/have burnt out, and that is also unfair and dangerous. This is not sustainable. This is not a model to keep encouraging with yearly increases when we know it’s not working. “ I think she is right.

During that time, and after, we are going to need a police force, and I want HRP to be supported to be the very best municipal force in the country, supported by the very best alternative mental health and community supports we can devise.

So while we work toward setting up the many alternative programs required should we consider detasking, we need to have a strong look at policing.

We’ve seen a lot of numbers being thrown around about per capital spend on policing and number of RCMP and HRP sworn officers per 100 thousand residents. We’ve also seen a lot of data that crime is in fact down in HRM.

I have a lot of thoughts on this – one of the reasons our per capita spend is so high is early that early after amalgamation programs were put into police for a variety of reasons that should, in my opinion, all come out, like crossing guards, youth programs. We should explore as Nina Cherry requested, and see if we can move victims’ services out, given that the Police Act lists it as a police service.

Simply put, we need to focus on defining core policing, and define appropriate service levels for both urban and rural and recognize as the municipality grows our police forces will grow with the population.

While this happens, I urge the board of police commissioners to take full control of their area of responsibility to the utmost extent the Police Act allows. It is my firm belief that the Board thought the Police Act has far more power than it has historically, consistently used.

We’ve been on a slow but steady path toward a more empowered Board since 2016, but we need the BOPC to take charge, and provide direction, and I say direction, to both HRP and RCMP, especially after the DOJ presentation where we were told the Police Act applies equally to both.

The work to establish service standards is the Boards, and the development of budget, and I believe the capital budget. I think the civilian board members should get paid, the Chair should be paid, this needs to be one of our most serious and heavy hitting and impactful boards.

I think Council should as one resident said “take a pause” and send this back and ask for more details on overtime and current staffing concerns and come back with the immediate more modest ask, but also renew the effort to work with council to adopt a place to act on the Defund report.

And Regional Council needs to do the work so by next budget year we have an adopted path, timeline, and expense of moving programs and services out of police, and setting up non-police, civilian responses.

I urge the Budget Committee to send this proposal back to BOPC for further work.