Halifax’s police board held a public hearing Monday before voting on the Halifax Regional Police’s proposal for a 2.3 percent 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 officers and two hate crime detectives.
Chief Dan Kinsella told the board that reports of sexual assault have increased and new hires are needed for the workload.
Monday’s public hearing, which was held virtually, was the first for the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners. Members of the public were able to make introductions before commissioners questioned the chief.
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Most speakers spoke out against the proposed increase, with some saying that the time is simply not right.
“In fact, I think we should have a moratorium on police raises until we get our own house in order,” said host Nancy Hunter.
Several speakers noted that the budget increase request comes just as the city is looking at defunding the police. On January 17, a report prepared for the police board by a 14-member subcommittee made 36 recommendations on police practices, oversight and accountability.
However, the subcommittee said it did not have enough data to recommend cutting a specific amount from the police budget.
The police board tasked the committee with conducting its review in 2020, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a police officer. That incident sparked a movement to “defund the police” in the United States, influencing activists in Canada.
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During Monday’s meeting, at least one presenter said passing the budget increase could “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 defunding of police and here we are having a conversation about a budget increase.”
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Among its recommendations, the report called for “task removal,” which would eliminate certain police functions, such as responding to mental health calls. Instead, those calls would be given to teams made up of civilians. It concluded that the current mental health crisis intervention model in Halifax Regional Municipality is “outdated and no longer aligned with best practice.”
Tanisha Williams, who spoke at Monday’s meeting, said the need to eliminate tasks was demonstrated on Aug. 18, 2021, when officers forcibly removed residents from a homeless encampment in a chaotic scene that led to arrests and a child who was pepper-sprayed.
“Issues like (homelessness), overdoses, gender-based violence need to be assigned to the appropriate organizations,” said Williams, who was at the eviction.
The vote at the end of Monday’s meeting, to increase HRP’s budget by 2.3 percent, passed with four board members voting in favor and three voting against.
Those who voted yes were: Yemi Akindoju, Anthony Thomas, Becky Kent and Lisa Blackburn.
The commissioners who voted not were: Lindell Smith, Harry Critchley and Carole McDougall.
This vote, however, does not mean that the budget is approved. The budget committee of the Halifax Regional Council will have to approve it at a meeting later this month.
— with an archive from The Canadian Press
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