Defunding the police by increasing funding for the police?

Halifax City council approved a slightly smaller increase for policing than the chief requested. But it’s still an increase. And not the “rethinking” of the role of policing in our society critics are asking for.

Police riot squad at the ready
Halifax police in full riot dismantle housing encampment. — Photo: Zane Woodford

“We are in a crisis. We are in dire straits. We need to be able to make sure that we staff the front line.”

Halifax Police Chief Dan Kinsella
Presenting his case for a $2 million increase in the force’s budget for 2022-23
December 13, 2021

“It is not just a notion of saying, ‘Oh, the police need to change what they’re doing.’ We also more broadly need to rethink how we are constructing society. For many decades, as we discussed in the report, we have disinvested and defunded social services, and then turned to the police to fill in the gaps.

El Jones
Lead author, “Defunding the Police – Defining the Way Forward for HRM
January 17, 2022

“This is just the beginning of the conversation.”

Lisa Blackburn
Councillor, member of the board of police commissioners
January 17, 2022

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, we support it. But it’s another thing to actually do the work.”

Lindell Smith
Councillor, Chair, Board of Police Commissioners
January 17, 2022

“By a thin margin, councillors voted on Friday in favour of an increased budget for Halifax Regional Police.”

Report by Halifax Examiner reporter Zane Woodford
March 11, 2022

“I think this work has taken us to a place we can live with, and at this point in time, it is a good solution.”

Mayor Mike Savage
March 11, 2022

It is not as if nothing changed. But nothing much changed. On Friday, March 11, Halifax councillors voted 9–8 in favour of Chief Kinsella’s latest budget request. Back in December, Kinsella had asked for $2,066,100 more than the $88,810,800 the city gave his department in 2021-22.

Between then and now — over the course of several board of police commissioners and council budget committee meetings — Kinsella had whittled his initial 2.3 per cent increase down to 0.4 per cent. That’s still $384,200 more than his department got last year.  Give or take — likely give — another $100,000 to cover an already agreed-to new collective agreement for officers whose full costs were inexplicably not included in any version of the chief’s request.

Councillors voting in favour: Lisa Blackburn, Shawn Cleary, David Hendsbee, Tony Mancini, Becky Kent, Tim Outhit, Trish Purdy, Paul Russell and Mayor Mike Savage.

Councillors voting against: Sam Austin, Patty Cuttell, Cathy Deagle Gammon, Pam Lovelace, Waye Mason, Kathryn Morse, Iona Stoddard, and Lindell Smith.

The decrease in the increase may seem like a baby step in the direction of that “rethink [of] how we are constructing society” argued for in Jones’ defunding report.

But it’s also worth noting that among the budget items that ended up on Kinsella’s cutting room floor: two sexual assault detective constables and one of two proposed hate crimes detective constables.

Given what Kinsella himself acknowledged is a growing problem of sexual assaults — 600 last year compared to 400 a decade ago — and under-reporting of hate crimes, one has to ask questions about police priorities.

Those reductions might seem to make sense if the city was actually “de-tasking” these responsibilities from the police and moving the funding to more appropriate agencies and organizations.

In its report, Jones’ group had recommended delegating responsibility for responding to mental health crises, sexual assault reporting and traffic enforcement and safety to other groups.

Some of that is complicated, of course, and will involve not only city council but also action by the provincial government.

That might explain why the board of police commissioners voted unanimously — a week after the report was made public — to create a subcommittee to review each of the report’s 36 recommendations to determine who would be responsible for making them happen.

“We need to get our bearings and determine who will be responsible for what and then work on next steps from there,” explained Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who proposed the subcommittee.

But Jones reminded the commissioners the report itself already notes when one of its recommendations falls under the board’s or council’s jurisdiction, or when provincial involvement would be required.

No need to reinvent that wheel.

In fact, Jones pointed out, some of the report’s recommendations — use of force reviews, for example, participatory budgeting and not funding police body cameras — could be approved by the board on its own.

Without needing to refer the matter to council or asking for the province to become involved.

“I do want to remind us that there are many urgencies to this work,” Jones told the board. “Some things are life and death.”

Duly reminded, the board decided to work toward figuring out terms of reference and a work plan for its new subcommittee to which, so far, no one has been appointed.

City council will vote on the full budget, including for policing, in early April.

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A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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