Halifax City hall through the memorial arch
Board of Police Commissioners

Special Board of Police Commissioners, Nov. 16, 2020

 | November 16, 2020

Present:

Commissioner Natalie Borden, Chair

Commissioner Carole McDougall, Vice Chair

Commissioner Tony Mancini (Councillor, District 6)

Commissioner Lindell Smith (Councillor, District 8)

Commissioner Lisa Blackburn (Councillor, District 14)

Commissioner Carlos Beals

Commissioner Anthony Thomas

Absent: 

The important stuff (motions under consideration and vote result):

This meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners was dominated by the report from El Jones on ‘defunding the police’, with a budget update from the Halifax Regional Police. Jones’ presentation was given to the board at their request, to find out how the city could move forward on defunding the police, and what it would look like. She emphasized the importance of supporting people in the community proactively, to avoid the need for police reactively. Jones also highlighted the necessity of broad community involvement, especially the people who think police should get more funding. After much discussion, the board realized there were lingering questions about practicality. Councillor Blackburn put forward a motion, that was adopted unanimously, to give the board a concrete, actionable plan to create the Committee on Defunding the Police in December. Which in turn will give the board, council, province, and any other involved organizations a roadmap they can follow, should they want to divest from police and re-invest in the community. 

The RCMP has requested the budget to hire a new person as a result of their HR audit, and the board decided to forward their request to council, as council has the power to negotiate with the RCMP and approve or deny this request. 

The board got a budget update from the HRP which was rather enlightening. The HRP is projecting a surplus of $958,600. For a meeting that was dominated by a conversation about what ‘defunding the police’ would look like, it turns out that a combination of factors that include COVID restrictions and CERB meant there was less crime and a corresponding drop in police spending in the second quarter. Not to be too flippant, since COVID also means the police are travelling and training less, this could suggest that when people are properly supported by their government, they do less crime, and police expenditures drop.  

The HRP’s presentation also included other interesting tidbits, for example, the HRP is involved with the UN, and one of their missions was cancelled due to COVID. I had also made the assumption that going to court was a routine part of a police officer’s job, but it turns out this foundational piece of our justice system is an additional expense the city pays.

And finally, the board meeting wrapped up with a very brief presentation on body cameras. HRP Chief Kinsella said “we can all agree” body cameras increase accountability and provide further evidence collection. He predicts they’ll be successful in Halifax. But it’s pretty hard to say that ‘we can all agree’ what body cameras will do since there’s a huge debate about their pros and cons (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). The extremely abridged version is accountability doesn’t improve with what body cams capture if there are no consequences for any bad behaviour captured on film. Or consequences for turning body cams off, like the RCMP can do in their pilot project.

For exact wording of any motion ctrl + f ‘MOTION:’

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Borden: Two announcements, first we’d like to congratulate Tony Thomas for getting the Art Solomon Award. Second, Carole MacDougall has been elected to the National Board of Police Commissioners. 

McDougall: In the minutes it says there’s no established time to remove street checks, is there an update on that plan? 

Smith: I was waiting for us to meet to get back in the swing of things. That’ll be addressed when we get going again now after the election. 

Borden: Now it’s time for the presentation from El Jones. The purpose of today’s session is to give us the proposal, get questions answered, and then have a motion. 

Jones: After the killings this summer, most notably George Floyd, the concept of defunding the police got thrust into the mainstream. They’re not new ideas, but they’re new to some in Canada and Nova Scotia. An example would be in Jan. 2020, this board heard about sobering centers, staffed by healthcare workers. It would remove police and the criminality of being intoxicated in public. It’s just an example, but there’s a lot that can be done. Funding shelters and homes, decriminalizing drug use, essentially funding social services proactively, instead of funding the police to be reactive. The board heard a proposal for defunding the police which included things like ‘having the police only do policing,’ but there were issues with what policing is. And we’re talking about definitions, but the issue is really we need to have a more complete conversation. Why do we rely on punishment? Why do we think police make us safe? For example, before the studies on street checks, people didn’t believe that racial profiling existed. Because of COVID-19 we’ve managed to release 41 per cent of provincially incarcerated people and put them up in supportive housing for half the cost of jailing. A definition is only meaningful if it also comes with policies to work it through and a way for everyone in the community to be involved in the conversation. The role of the committee in this case should be research and reporting and to facilitate the community conversation. There’s a lot that’s happened throughout the country and world in this area, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The committee on defunding the police should include a wide array of people with research and lived experiences in policing. They should then start doing public hearings with the goal of learning what exists already, what people’s experience with police are, and what they want the future of policing to be. They’d have to make sure there’s an avenue for public input and then provide a definition on what defunding the police would look like, including actionable policies and relevant community feedback. The proposed timeline is a bit weird with COVID, but the committee and research could start in November, public hearings in January, and a report in the spring. We also need to make sure that people who want more police funding have a voice in this report too. 

Borden: Questions? 

Thomas: I just want to make sure the Mi’kmaq member is included. 

Jones: Absolutely, but that community should have ownership in the process so didn’t want to nominate anyone without their permission.

Smith: I’d like to hear more about the releases. The names you proposed as potential committee members, how do these work? 

Jones: They’re people who have experience that I think is valuable, it wouldn’t be exclusionary. 

Smith: Should we look at filling these committees in the way the HRM normally fills committees? We may not get the best people for this in the way we do things, because of the way we do things? Should we do something different for this committee? And what’s the budget for this? The people who we would want in on this might not have the resources to take volunteer committee roles, can we at least provide lunch? Do we as a commission have a budget to help with this? I’ve gotten a lot of angry emails that this committee will only include “the left-wing,” how can it be addressed to be representative of the whole committee?  

Jones: This committee is primarily a research committee, so we need people in the committee who are able to write it up. But it’s important that we get everyone, including those that disagree, to be involved in the process. It’s important that our whole community is represented in this committee. It won’t be effective if people don’t feel like they have a sense of ownership of this process. I can’t speak for the funding, but you’re right, especially the people with lived experience, there may be class-based barriers to working on this committee so I’m glad you brought that up.

Mancini: The public meetings would end, or start in January? 

Jones: Start and end in January. 

Mancini: Do we need to address the budget issue now if it’s tied into the approval of creating this committee? What happens at the end of this process when we get the report? 

Jones: Some of that is up to this board, but the report would identify policy preventions that could be implemented. Part of the work the committee would do would be to create a map. It’s unrealistic to think that a report would land in May and then there’d be no police in June. It’s a long process and would be a societal shift, it’s a long term path. The report would provide the steps to take in the short, medium and long term. 

Mancini: RCMP? Whatever comes out of this report, the RCMP it’s own thing, and answers to Ottawa. We can tell HRP what to do, but where does this leave the RCMP? Could this committee do anything for them? Does that muddy the waters? 

Jones: It’s a strange relationship, it’s hard to say. Are police forces going to get a report and then give up $50 million from their budget? No. But we could go line item by line item and explain how they spend their money though, that’s new information for a lot of people. It wouldn’t even be an overarching policy document, it’s a guide. Although it would identify things we could do immediately, like sobering centres. But creating this document would be useful for archiving as well, ‘in 2021 Halifax did this.’ It could also be used by other communities and cities who are looking at this research. 

Mancini: Today you’re looking for approval for the next steps of this committee, but for me, the hold up is the budget or resources for this committee. 

Borden: The conversations are ongoing. 

Mancini: I’m less worried about finances, and more about the resources, can the CAO chime in on that? 

CAO: Once the board defines what it wants to do, we can find the resources for it. The budget doesn’t exist until the proposal does. We’d have to come up with the budget, if the board can define what it wants to do by when then there are things we can do. The CFO and I, and the board would come up with something. 

Mancini: Should we vote on something today or? 

CAO: Up to you, Jones was asked to come to the board with a plan, and she came back with a plan, it’s up to you now what you want to do with that. Changing policing in the HRM will have far-reaching impacts, and anything done here will come back to council. 

Blackburn: This is exactly what I wanted to hear. What’s the scope of the examples in practice you’d be looking at? Provincial? National? Global? Do you feel confident you have enough provincial connections in the committee given the size the province plays in healthcare? This board may also be changing tomorrow because tomorrow it all changes. 

Jones: With regard to timeline, I gave a short timeline because I thought that’s what the board wanted, but I understand it could take a while, as long as it doesn’t drag on for years. Canada is the most useful example because it’s more tangible, but there are good examples throughout the world with specific police. And Canada doesn’t always mean municipalities, there are, for example, good Indigenous examples.

Beals: Is the plan to identify specific police functions that can be given to a more appropriate agency? 

Jones: I prefer to think of it not as taking from police, but enhancing society. Many people see this as inherently negative, destroying the police. But it’s positive instead, we have small scale programs that work, and work well, but didn’t scale, or had funding cut. This process should be supporting those programs. But when it comes to the police budget, that’s outside of my purview. And it’s important that it’s not top down, I have a set of beliefs that I want, but this process can’t be ‘El Jones just tells us what to do.’ That’s not helpful. It needs to be community based. If we don’t get buy in, then we don’t get buy in and we can revisit it later if we want. 

Beals: Can there be a process to get people to submit anonymously? 

Jones: There should be a way for that yes. I don’t think that it’s a difficult process to set up, but I think people may have had experiences they don’t want to attach their names to. 

McDougall: Let’s talk about the possibilities instead of the negatives. I think we need to provide a budget to allow the work to happen. We need to be as comprehensive as possible. If it means a motion, I’ll make a motion, if we need a subcommittee, I’ll happily serve on that. 

Borden: I didn’t put forward El Jones so she could tell us what to do, but because of her standing in the community. Her connections allow it to not be a top-down process. When this comes back to us, that’s when we decide what to do. We have oversight for the HRP, but we’re also an advisory body for the RCMP, we hold the contract and we can advise them. If we want to see sobering centres, that may not be something we can do, even if we accept it as something we want to do. It’d have to be a suggestion or request to the province. This also aligns with the work Mason put forward before council. We need to be an advocacy voice for the community. We did give a short time frame, but we do want to get this right. This is a report for policing in the HRM, not HRP policing. It falls under our purview. If we can have an agreement in principle and use that to go forward, we can have a motion to reflect that and make sure it has the appropriate resources going forward. 

Jones: Just to go back to the releases, there was an understanding that it was a public health crisis, people came together quickly, and got people released. It ended because it ran out of funding, even though it was cheaper than jail. But it’s an example that proves that we can make change if we have the right mindset. 

Mancini: Does the agreement need to be formal? Procedurally what’s most appropriate and what do we need to do to move this forward? 

Staff: You need a motion to adopt the proposal in principle, subject to, and a referral to, a working group. You can set up a committee or have a working group of members who could return to the board with a more specific structure. 

McDougall: If we have an agreement in principle, is it possible for El Jones to continue to identify groups and individuals to be part of this? Or is this on pause until the working group comes back? 

Staff: Up to you. The framework of a working group would be useful. 

Borden: Two big questions: Are we okay with the proposal as written? And can El’s work identifying people continue at the same time? Anyone want to make a motion? 

Staff: I know we’ve set aside timelines, broadly, but this specific issue could have a timeline. 

Borden: If we want to start in January coming back in December would be useful? 

Blackburn: MOTION: That the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners adopt the proposal in principle from the Committee on Defunding, as defined in the presentation dated Nov. 16, 2020. That they would strike a working group of the board to be determined by the chair to determine the composition, and for the committee to work on specific issues such as budget, to bring back for consideration by the Board of Police Commissioners, and to allow El Jones to begin planning work for the Committee on Defunding. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous. 

Borden: Can we skip over the Wortley update? There’s a detailed document on the board’s website that’s extremely comprehensive, and I’d like to get to the budget piece. Any objections? 

Okay, onto the RCMP request. 

RCMP Gray: We’re under budget because we had a leave restriction because no one could go on vacation, so we didn’t need overtime. We did less investigating because there was less crime during COVID. We’re conducting an HR audit, to see if we need everyone doing what they’re doing. We’ll probably come back to you with a new org chart. But we’ve identified a new role and we’re asking for it now.

Borden: We’ve talked about this as a board before, does anyone have questions? From a process point of view, we make this recommendation to council who has the contract and does the negotiation. Is there a motion? 

Mancini: Is it premature for us to be recommending this as we’re moving into budget time? We haven’t seen the budget from the HRP? I don’t think this is appropriate at this time. 

Borden: It’s more for us to consider if there’s value in this request. 

Mancini: I think it’ll be perceived as a recommendation from this board and it’s too early. 

McDougall: There is a time frame to be submitted to council, and they missed it last time, so we have to do this now because that’s what’s required? Is that correct? 

Borden: The timing was laid out in the memorandum of understanding, but as a guidance document, we should be following that. You’re right, but it’s not written in stone. 

Staff: We did get caught in a loop in this last year, this is just one thing to put on the list for budget time if they want to advance it. 

Smith: It feels like we’re going to get caught in the same loop, does this fix it? 

Borden: We fixed it, we make this recommendation, it goes to council, they decide to fund it or not, then they do the negotiation. 

Smith: Why can’t this just go to council, why does it need to come from us? 

Borden: To make sure we’ve done due diligence, like if it were part of the HRP budget. Anyone want to make a motion? MOTION: That the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners forward the funding request to Halifax Regional Council for consideration and discussion with the Nova Scotia Department of Justice.  

McDougall: I’ll make that motion. 

Mancini: I’m okay with this working because we are forwarding the request. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous

Borden: HRP Second Quarter Budget Update.

HRP Craig Horton: Projecting a surplus of $958,600. There have been fewer requests for HRP to staff events from private companies. A UN mission was cancelled. Criminal record checks are down in person, but up on the online portal. We’re saving money on in-court appearances. There is less extra duty. On the job injury treatments are down because people can’t go in for appointments. PPE and cleaning costs are up, out of town travel and training costs are down. COVID is the reason for just over $300,000 in savings. 

McDougall: The police board had a budget of $24,000, why did that change? 

Horton: When COVID happened we recast the budget, we made a bunch of cuts, and that was one of them. 

Blackburn: What are joint investigative policing initiatives? 

Horton: We cost-share policing initiatives, like witness protection, investigation. Mainly with the RCMP. 

Borden: On the job injury costs are going down, but are you working with providers to make sure they are still receiving treatments? 

Horton: Yes, there are still treatments happening, it’s primarily the physical ones. But it’ll dwindle as we transfer fully to the new WCB system. 

Borden: 2021 budget?

Chief Kinsella: I have a quick verbal overview. The capital budget requests are body-worn cameras, cybersecurity and vehicles. Some of the tech infrastructure needs replacement. We’re assuming we’re going to be in the ‘COVID environment’ next budget. We’re also going to be asking for more staff, and the details will be at the Dec. 14 meeting. 

Smith: Did you get a target from the CAO this time around? 

Kinsella: It’s ongoing, it’s why I don’t have a lot of detail right now. 

Borden: Can I get an idea of funding for Victim Services and training moving forward? 

Kinsella: We do maintain a certain level of training, but the lack of travel is hindering our ability to train, but I’ll have more details in December. 

Borden: Next up, proceeds of crime. But I want to do a time check. 

Thomas: Can we move up the body-worn cameras? 

Kinsella: One thing we can agree on is that they increase accountability and collecting of evidence. Based on the successes in other jurisdictions, we believe it’ll be an effective policy for the HRM. 

RCMP Gray: We know they help gather evidence and increase accountability. The RCMP’s considering things like privacy, video storage, and we’re studying it. We expect it to take some time. There’s a pilot program in Iqaluit that we’re monitoring closely. It was chosen because it’s a small community and the weather is the most extreme the cameras will have to face. The RCMP’s been using body cams for several years. 

Mancini: Is it too premature to ask for a price tag? 

Kinsella: Yes, there are different models of camera, policies, options, etc. 

Borden: Since a bunch of people have to leave at 3:00, I think we’ll call it then. I’ve taken a new role in government so I’ll be looking to step back from the chair role in the new year. Everything else is deferred. 

Meeting is adjourned. M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous.   

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Agenda for the meeting


A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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