It’s time to fix policing, not ‘integrate’ the local Mounties and the HRP

Two uniformed officers stand on a roadway between two vehicles. In the background is downtown Halifax on a partly cloudy day.
An RCMP officer and an HRP officer stand together on Citadel Hill in a photo from a budget presentation to council in 2020.

Let’s start with this…

Defunding the police is, in many ways, about reinvesting in fundamental, and historically under-funded, community resources… [Our] last recommendations relate to municipal and police budgeting. One of these recommendations is that any funds diverted from the police budget going forward be redistributed through participatory budgeting processes.

Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM
El Jones et al
January 17, 2022

And then move on to this…

Recommendation 98: The Commission recommends that the federal minister of public safety commission the in-depth, external, and independent review of the RCMP…  This review should specifically examine the RCMP’s approach to contract policing and work with contract partners, and also its approach to community relations.

Recommendation 99: After obtaining the external review recommended here, Public Safety Canada and the federal minister of public safety establish clear priorities for the RCMP, retaining the tasks that are suitable to a federal policing agency, and identifying what responsibilities are better reassigned to other agencies (including, potentially to new policing agencies). This may entail a reconfiguration of policing in Canada and a new approach to federal financial support for provincial and municipal policing services.

Mass Casualty Commission
Final Report
March 30, 2023

But then there is also this…

It is recommended that [Halifax Regional Municipality] develop an [RCMP/HRP] integrated operating model for police services that is focused on providing consistent and responsive services and integrating with the broader public safety ecosystem.

Policing Transformation Study Recommendation Report
For Halifax Regional Municipality
Completed, November 2022
Published April 2023

The only things that seem clear at this point are that policing in Canada is in crisis and that this may be our best opportunity in decades to radically change it for the better here in Halifax.

Or not.

One stutter step forward. Ten back flips madly off in all directions.

Halifax is unique in Canada — and not necessarily in a good way — in that the municipality is policed by two parallel, often competing forces. The RCMP is responsible for covering HRM’s sprawling suburban and rural areas while the Halifax Regional Police takes care of policing business in the urban core. The forces each even report to different bosses. It’s all a legacy of the 1996 municipal amalgamation.

The consultant’s recent “transformation study” of the Halifax Regional Municipality’s policing model — commissioned by council in April 2021, completed in November 2022 and finally published late last month — offers a bit of everything for everyone before defaulting to an “improved” version of the status quo as the way forward.

It feints in the direction of the Jones report, for example, with its recommendation for the creation of a “community safety function” outside the purview of either the RCMP or the Halifax Regional Police.

Community Response Teams will complement police services by provided trauma-informed responses to 911 calls for service involving non-violent behavioral, mental health needs and quality of life concerns, including calls involving the needs of people who are unsheltered, by dispatching teams of unarmed, skilled, civilian first responders.

So far, so good.

But while the study suggests such non-police response teams could respond to up to 20 percent of existing police calls and save up to $400,000 a year on policing by reducing the number of actual officers required, the review’s central recommendation seems to have more to do with figuring out how to make the Mounties and the HRP play nice together than with solving the larger problems facing policing today.

On the one hand, the study doesn’t shy away from identifying lack of integration and coordination between the police agencies as a problem.

The current policing model is not integrated. Despite what might be commonly perceived in the community, the HRP and RCMP do not operate in an integrated policing model. HRM currently has a dual policing model, meaning two services operating in parallel as discrete service providers. The gap between what stakeholders expect in the policing model and what exists today is vast — significant transformation is needed to bridge that gap.

The report suggests there are two ways to bridge that gap — create a “single agency model of policing,” which is to say just the HRP, or “an integrated operating model.” But it quickly defaults to the latter. Not because an integrated RCMP-HRP force would offer better community-focused policing for the community than a single police department. But because striking out on our own with our own local police department would be expensive. Local taxpayers, it suggests, would end up having to swallow a current federal subsidy of 30 per cent of the cost of each RCMP officer.

But is that what we really want?

The Mounties’ future role in provincial and local policing is under fire for all sorts of good reasons, most recently in the damning report of the mass casualty commission. Will the RCMP even be in the business of local policing by the time its contract with Nova Scotia comes up for renewal in 2032.

Even before the mass casualty commission report, at least five Nova Scotia municipalities had decided to review their contract relationship with the RCMP. The Municipality of Cumberland — where four people were killed in the April 2020 mass shooting — has set a deadline of May 19 to receive bids for supplying policing services to the community.

HRM should move on too, assume responsibility for its own policing and create a new model that focuses on public safety and accountability.


A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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  1. For decades, I practiced as a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with a masters certificate in project management. When problems arise, project managers don’t look to assign blame, they seek root causes and find solutions. The three most prevalent causes of failure are break downs in communications, inadequate training and systems that no longer work. I agree a providential police force such as that in Ontario and Quebec is a good idea to give local control and oversight, yet that alone will not address the problems. The system is broken. Politicians have so far been unwilling to take the steps to address this. Part of it is, as you state in your article, losing the 30% co-funding from the federal government. It is also a lack of political will to open up the mandate of policing and adjust it to our current needs. Mental illness, homelessness and drug addiction can’t be addressed as crimes. They are the result of social pressures and financial inequality. Such issues require people specifically trained to address the needs of these communities, for they are communities within our society, not degenerate outcasts, though too many people treat marginalized citizens thus. Police forces are needed to protect us from actual criminals. It’s a tough, dangerous job that causes terrible stress. Police constables go on duty knowing they could be killed on any call. Suicide rates among peace officers is unprecedented. They are tasked with stopping crime and at the same time protecting the rights of citizens in a democracy. Some fall down on this pact and abuse their power. There is inherent racism in a system based on the good guys/bad guys English model of crime and punishment that is skewed the less affluent and people of color as seen in the actions of some constables and managers. These things need to be addressed. One of the lowest causes of failure is personnel problems, even though blaming and firing individuals is the go-to solution in our society. Good people can become trapped in a bad systems. It’s been shown that some black police officers treat black citizens with less respect than then they do white citizens. The mandate for police services must be re-evaluated from the bottom up. Citizens who interact with police, mental health and addiction workers who have the knowledge and training in these areas, homeless advocates who care for those on the streets, front line constables who deal with calls, managers who are responsible for the overview and legislators who intact laws all need to work together to discover what is needed today and devise systems that meet our current needs. Problems rarely have a single cause or solution. Only through the full participation of all involved will the true causes be discovered. Without political will to do the right thing and think beyond the next election, nothing will change.


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