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Despite a year of calls to defund the police, council adds $2.7 million to HRP’s budget

A bleak signal of what’s to come on police reform in this city.

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If the words of Mike Savage, quoting Joe Biden—"Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value"—are true, what does Halifax Regional Council’s approach to police budgeting say? In a year teeming with calls to defund or at least reallocate police money, and in a meeting where those calls were voiced inside council’s virtual chamber, yesterday council voted to pour even more cash into three different police requests.

This week, the budget committee (which is just regional council plus the mayor) neared the end of its months-long budget process by debating all the stuff on the wish list. That is, things various city business units had asked for that were above and beyond their allocated budget.

Because HRM has some extra cash on hand, thanks to increased deed transfer tax revenue from Halifax’s hot-as-hell housing market, there wasn’t as much debate as normal between councillors. But 18 people did show up during the public participation phase to ask council to vote against Halifax Regional Police’s request for an extra $85,000 to hire someone to look into getting body-worn cameras for HRP, as well as to speak out against increasing police funding in general.

“We don’t trust the process of what’s going on in this institution,” Avery Dakin told councillors via Zoom. “I want to at least hopefully have trust in the council to at least listen to what we’re saying and come through on that.”

Residents cited research that’s already available on body-worn cameras: How they can create a false sense of security, that it’s not always clear when the footage will be recorded and who will have access to it, and the high cost of implementing these kinds of projects. Much of this research has been presented to the board of police commissioners.

The $85,000 researcher job is theoretically intended to answer these sorts of concerns. We got here because HRP hastily came to the board of police commissioners with a grand plan for a full rollout of body cameras, to which the board said “more info please”—specifically, as councillor Lisa Blackburn asked for then, clear policies to guide the use of cams.

HRP said it couldn’t find the money for a researcher in its bigger-than-any-other-department’s budget of $88,580,000. Which council already voted to increase this budget season by $2.5 million from the previous year. Nor could it afford $60,000 to pay for the Journey to Change program, which works on anti-Black racism within the police force and came out of the street check report recommendations. And it was also looking for $85,500 to hire another court disposition clerk.

That’s $230,500 worth of wish list that HRP said it can’t afford without extra help from the city. One quarter of one percent of that massive budget of nearly 90 million dollars.

Before the October 2020 election, The Coast asked councillors their thoughts on police and police funding. Councillors Cathy Deagle-Gammon, Sam Austin and Lindell Smith all said they think HRM should defund the police. Sam Austin, Waye Mason, Shawn Cleary, Lindell Smith and Tim Outhit all said they think HRM spends too much on police services.

At Thursday’s meeting, when it came to deciding on paying for the body-worn cameras researcher, only councillors Waye Mason, Iona Stoddard and Patty Cuttell voted against. On the court disposition clerk, councillors Trish Purdy, Patty Cuttell, Pam Lovelace, Paul Russell, Tim Outhit and Cathy Deagle-Gammon voted against. And every councillor and mayor savage voted in favour of the extra $60,000 for Journey to Change.

Councillor Shawn Cleary said he was OK spending the $85,000 extra on looking at body-worn cameras so Halifax could have its own research on whether or not they’d work for the needs of the community here. When HRP first presented the “over” items to council, HRP chief Dan Kinsella alluded to this position including community consultation, saying: “Every community is different. Every community has different needs and we want to make sure that if we are going to be bringing this forward, that we get the right dialogue with the community.”

But CAO Jacques Dube said at Thursday’s meeting this week that this position would not engage in a public consultation portion, just look at research available.

Council will meet once more to talk about the finalized budget and any implications on the tax rate on May 4.

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