Screenshot of Halifax Regional Police Chief Kinsella during committee meeting on December 14th 2020
Board of Police Commissioners

No body cams yet for Halifax Regional Police

Policies needed before Halifax Regional Police get body cams
 | December 14, 2020

Board of Police Commissioners (Special), Dec. 14, 2020

Present:

Commissioner Natalie Borden, Chair

Commissioner Carole MacDougall, Vice-Chair

Commissioner Anthony Thomas

Commissioner Becky Kent (Councillor, District 3)

Commissioner Lindell Smith (Councillor, District 8)

Commissioner Lisa Blackburn (Councillor, District 14)

Absent:

Commissioner Carlos Beals

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

Body cameras won’t be coming to Halifax without the policies governing their use put in place. 

The Board of Police Commissioners meeting was dominated today by a discussion about the Halifax Regional Police implementing body cameras. The police presentation only highlighted the benefits of the body cameras because the motion asking for this information asked about technology, cost and benefits.

Councillor Smith was concerned about another form of surveillance on already over-policed communities and wanted to know about the potential downsides of body cameras. Due to technical issues, the video of the meeting stayed on the police while Smith was asking his question capturing this (video below). Video of the meeting was dropped shortly afterwards. 

During Inspector Greg Roberston’s presentation, he outlined that HRP expects to use body cameras during service calls, but that they could be turned off and on at the officer’s discretion, like if turning a camera off would defuse the situation. Robertson also said that according to body cam vendors, a.k.a. people who are motivated to sell body cameras, they reduce police costs by doing things like getting faster guilty pleas.

The board wanted to get more information before making a decision because studies like this one show body cams have no significant impact on community relations, or this one which can uncharitably be read as ‘police abuse their power less when they wear cameras,’ were not included in the HRP’s presentation. 

Based on the meeting today, it seems unlikely the Board of Police Commissioners will approve body cameras for the HRP unless good policies are in place before buying them. 

If the RCMP adopts body cameras, their officers would be wearing them in the HRM and the HRM would be on the hook for that cost in 2024.

The Committee on Defunding the Police will hopefully get funding and start its work in short order, but the city needs to make sure the board can legally allocate its budget to cover the committee’s expenses. They may need to go to council to get money. 

And the HRP presented its budget projection. This is a long process, and today the board mainly focused on making sure they understood where the money was going and why. There will be more negotiations on this during the budget process, which is ongoing and will end in the spring. 

Who said what (paraphrased): 

Borden: First and foremost we’re swearing in Councillor Kent! Congratulations and welcome. I’d like to thank Councillor Mancini for his time and participation in this committee. There’d normally be a ceremony, but COVID exists. 

Marty Ward: This is our first virtual swearing in!

(They’re doing the ceremony virtually, it involves witnessing virtually, showing the signature to the camera and a courier, what a time to be alive! But the background privacy filter is eating the paper with the signature so there were some snafus doing the virtual witnessing. They sorted it out.)

Borden: Are there any community announcements? None? I guess not too much is happening in communities these days. I’d like to change the order of business, moving up body cams, budget, and the Committee on Defunding the Police, then the rest of it. So first item, 10.1.5, the body-worn camera presentation

Chief Kinsella: Thanks for allowing me to make this presentation today. The vast majority of police organizations are going right to body-worn cameras, it’s a best practice. The police put together a committee to study this and the people came from various police departments of the HRP. We think they’re good, here’s inspector Greg Roberston.

(It’s worth noting that the motion that started the HRP study was looking only for benefits, not pros and cons, as well as cost and tech requirements.)

Robertson: The way the cameras work is if the cops hit the big button it makes a sound, lights up and starts recording so the public know when they’re being recorded. The goals are enhanced transparency and accountability, improved evidence gathering. We put out requests for information and got a lot of information from various vendors. We also know we need to do some work with the privacy commissioner. Two new people would need to be hired, one is because all video is immediately evidence and we’d need someone to deal with it immediately. By fall 2022/spring 2023 would be a full body cam roll out, with the mental health response officers being among the last to get cameras. Here’s a video demonstrating what officers will need to do at the end of their shifts with body-worn cameras. At the end of a shift, they need to log the video, upload it, and plug everything in. Bodycams would be used in every service call unless a situation can be defused by turning it off, and officers would be expected to explain why they’re turning cameras off in those situations. The estimated cost of the program is estimated to be 3.71 million over five years, annual cost $380,000/yr, labour increase $308,000/yr. Questions? 

MacDougall: Can you remind me why this isn’t a pilot? 

Kinsella: Vast majority of pilot programs turned into full deployment. With the size of our service, it’s a best practice to go right to full deployment for us, if we want it. There are some liability issues when some cops have it and some don’t. We can still do a pilot if that’s what the board wants, but the result of the pilot will be we recommend full rollout. It’d be $200,000/yr for a pilot. 

MacDougall: Can you give us examples of what you’d be evaluating in the final phase? 

Robertson: How well we’re following the rules, and auditing our storage and compliance guidelines. We could also do community satisfaction, but we’d need a benchmark. 

MacDougall: One of the points that’s been raised about body cams is involving the community in the policy development for bodycams? 

Robertson: We’re going to after funding, it’s too early. 

MacDougall: Are cameras on all the time? Are they on/off?

Robertson: Depends on the vendor, but usually no, you gotta hit the button to turn it on and off. 

Blackburn: Most of my questions are about policy, do we have policies in place that are ready for a full rollout? We’d need rigorous policies for this. 

Robertson: I’m confident the policy framework would be complete on time. We know we need to engage privacy and complaints commission. I’m confident we can do it on time. 

Kent: Can you repeat the numbers for the other jurisdictions? 

Robertson: Truro has under a dozen, Kentville has under a dozen, Fredericton, St John, Calgary and Toronto all have cameras. 

Kent: How many? 

Robertson: Toronto is under 1000, but moving to 5000, Calgary is 1150, Fredericton is 110. 

Kent: When did they start? 

Robertson: 2017, so not a lot of time to do an analysis. 

Kent: When did Halifax start looking into them? 

Robertson: 2017. 

Kent: The on/off button, can it be touched anywhere or do they need to be precise? 

Robertson: Depends on the vendor. 

Kent: When will they be used?

Robertson: Calls for service. 

Kent: And the skin blurring?

Robertson: Depends on the vendor. 

Kent: It’s a weird thing, skin detection, why? 

Robertson: It’s just that vendor, I can’t really think of a reason to take everyone out of a video. 

Kent: Operational cost and labour cost, why are they separate? Why wouldn’t labour just be operational? 

Robertson: We have it broken down because the labour is staggered, we wouldn’t hire all four people at the same time. 

Kent: These positions are supporting bodycams specifically? 

Robertson: Yeah, it’s always a requirement for body-worn cameras. Need people to prepare video for court, prepare video for FOIPOP requests, and IT stuff. 

Smith: You didn’t cite any research, if you do a quick google scholar search you’ll see good resources. When I think about this city and the issues being raised in this city, the research shows body-worn cameras don’t address the concerns being raised by our community. And instead, have the perception of increasing systemic racism with more surveillance and already over monitored. This would require policies to prevent this. I’m uncomfortable supporting this without policies. We need to understand what the policies are before we put the money forward to buy this. If we support this today, there’s no way for us to stop it if we don’t agree with the policies. Those are my concerns. I’d also like to see some of the cons, this presentation was very supportive of cameras. 

Kinsella: The data is inconclusive across the board or at least the stuff that we’ve seen. There are some more in-depth studies coming out of the States, but we’re not there yet in Canada. We can prepare draft policies, but we’d need to know if there was going to be a pilot. 

Borden: We do have a policy framework where we can come up with a policy, but no one’s volunteered to take that up. 

Smith: One of the things we’d need to talk about is defunding the police and how this would fit into that. These are civilian jobs, but are there uniformed policing jobs being added? 

Kinsella: There are a number of policies in use that are publically available if you want to know in general how they’re being deployed. We’re also doing a policy deep-dive on our policies, so we can add this. Defunding the police needs to be part of the discussion, there’s been a very large ask from the community for accountability, which is a vital part of this discussion. 

*Tech difficulties, audio only for now*

Thomas: How do citizens get access to video about them? 

Robertson: Every office has to log their video and store it, so it’s the same as any other FOIPOP.

Thomas: Officers can turn on and off the camera during any incident, they can use their judgement. 

Roberston: Not really, only when investigating. 

Borden: From a policy development perspective would we be looking to other jurisdictions? 

Robertson: Yes.

Borden: We talk about cameras as accountability, but are there different considerations if used as evidence from a policy perspective. 

Roberston: It has to be disclosed as evidence if it’s evidence. So video gets transferred to the cloud, and the four positions we’d need to hire come in. 

Borden: Do we already share video evidence? 

*Tech difficulties*

Borden: If there is any indication the provincial Department of Justice will be doing anything on bodycam policies? 

Robertson: They’ve expressed interest. 

*I’m getting some choppy tech issues here, Borden’s asking about practical implications of starting a program like this and integration with other police forces

Borden: From cost savings, are other jurisdictions saving money with body-worn cams? Are complaint investigations shorters for example? 

Roberston: Yes, that’s what the vendors are telling us. They get quicker guilty pleas, I’d expect it’d make complaints shorter to investigate. 

Borden: Why traffic as the first unit? 

Robertson: It’s a lower number, it’s only 15 people. It’s the easiest unit. 

Borden: My question is for the RCMP, how is the RCMP pilot going? Are there any issues integrating RCMP’s cams with HRP cams?

Chief Gray: We’ve been using bodycams since 2010, we have 75 now. They did a pilot in 2013, and there’s another one going on. We’ll be deploying body-worn cams nationally this summer. The first three years of body-worn cameras will be paid federally, so that jurisdictions have time to increase their budget for the RCMP to cover it, so expect that in 2024. There are differences between the two police forces, but we’re used to it. 

Jacques Dubé (CAO): Does the RCMP have any bodycams in HRM? Are there plans to put some in HRM? 

Gary: No we don’t. Any messaging to you or the HRP will be far in advance. We don’t need them from a divisional perspective. We used them in the fisheries dispute, as ordered. 

Kent: What does Chief Kinsella need today? What happens after today? 

Borden: We’re still going to talk about that when we start talking about the motion, we’re just getting our questions answered at this point in time. 

Smith: Do we bring a motion today if we want to move forward or? What’s the move forward?

Borden: We don’t have a motion attached to this because we wanted to see what the HRP was bringing forward. So we can bring a motion forward now, be it to go ahead or get more information. 

Smith: Chief Kinsella, do you know when you’re presenting your budget to council? 

Kinsella: January or maybe a bit later, there are also capital budget considerations. 

Smith: My suggestion would be, next meeting put forward motions because anything other than a motion to adopt in principle could get a little messy. So do we need to defer it and then come back with a motion? If that’s what we want to do, naturally. 

Borden: Are you looking for more information? 

Smith: If I were to make a motion today it would be to do more research and develop the policies in principle, and we’d have to do it soon if we wanted it this budget. But there’s no urgency because this is just something we asked for. So that’s what I’d do. 

Dubé (CAO): Business units are scheduled to come in February, and that’s when the HRP will come to council. The capital budget is January, so there’s some time. 

Blackburn: I’m not comfortable moving forward on this today without rigorous policies around their use before implementation. This isn’t a solution, it’s a tool. It’s no different than a laptop or cellphone. It has the potential to make a difference here. There’s no doubt about the erosion of public trust in policing and this could help. But we’d also need to manage expectations, I don’t think this will stop bad behaviour by police or the public. But I’d like to see what the policies that have been drafted look like. 

Kent: It doesn’t feel like I have enough information. You mentioned we don’t have a policy lead, has this board not had policy development because of this lack of resourcing? How long has the ask been out there without a commissioner stepping up? If no one of us can, can we bring someone in to do it? 

(I missed a bunch of Borden’s explanation, but it’s a big job, and not easily done, in general, by one person. It needs to be directed work.)

Ward: HRP is also going to bring policies, like use of force, for the board to review.

Borden: I’m getting that we’re not in a position to make a motion, and we want more information.  

Ward: Need a deferral and some direction to the HRP. 

MacDougall: I would like to see a policy framework, I’d like to hear the impact on communities as Lindell has suggested

Borden: Do I need a motion to defer? 

Ward: Yes.

Smith: If we’re deferring pending further information, do we need to say what information we want? 

Borden: We’re looking for more research, policy framework and community impact. 

Staff: We don’t need to be specific in the motion, we have enough from the discussion. 

Smith: What do we want to see as a commission? Do we want to see the exact policies? The approach to crafting them? 

Borden: I’d like to see a framework, I don’t think it’s reasonable to get all of the policies by January. 

Smith: If we’re asking for all this information, will it be ready by budget? 

Borden: I’m not comfortable that I can answer that, so timelines, if we wanted it to be included in this budget, would be useful. I don’t think we can be sure of what we’re going to get back. 

Kinsella: When you say community impact, what do you mean? I get the privacy piece, but does it mean community consultation? Focus groups? A survey? 

MacDougall: I was following up on what Smith said, but I want to know if there have been any community impacts from bodycam implementation. 

Kinsella: We’ll pull together what we can, but there isn’t a lot of our there except anecdotal information. 

Borden: Motion to defer.

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Borden: Thanks! Now on to the HRP budget

Kinsella: The pandemic has changed things and the budget factors this in, here’s Mr. Horton to present. 

Craig Horton (Financial Coordinator for the HRP): We’re forecasting a budget need of $86,275,100, which is a 2.8 per cent increase, going up roughly one per cent per year for three years following. (Reads the budget as written.)

Kinsella: The three asks; the two positions are civilian positions, we get about 4000 court dispositions that we need to upload to a CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre) database, but we’ve never staffed it and so it’s slowly been falling behind, and now we’re way behind. The second position is for a multimedia training person, COVID has taught us the importance of virtual learning, and this person would help us with create and improve training modules as recommended by the Wortley report. After the apology to the African Nova Scotian community we rolled out a training program to inform our members about the lived and policing experiences of African Nova Scotians, we’d like this money to keep that training going. 

MacDougall: Regarding the multi-media person… what would they be doing? It’s not clear. 

Kinsella: We can’t share our training easily, we developed a PowerPoint for biased free policing, but had to do it in person, and got waylaid by COVID. We want to make sure the training is available if we can’t meet in person. 

Kent: Is mental health training included in the Journey to Change? 

Kinsella: No, it’s mainly anti-Black racism, intergenerational trauma and effects on policing on African Nova Scotian communities. 

Kent: But mental health training is included somewhere? 

Kinsella: Yes.

Smith: The increase in the wage model is that something we previously approved and are now seeing at this budget? The draft wage model is that a previously approved model? 

Horton: It’s developed by HRM finance, and sent to us to review and make adjustments. 

Jane Fraiser: This presentation is how they’re going to use the money we’re planning on giving them.

Smith: The only thing that’s changing this year in terms of increase is the $200,000? 

Frasier: Yes, the $247,000, that Kinsella spoke to. 

Borden: Can this change with the collective agreement negotiations? 

Frasier: Not really. 

Borden: I’ve had a request for a break, can we do that? 

Staff: Easily.

*Short break*

 Smith: When we look at the $2 million that was taken out and now being put back in, what was that money for? 

Horton: $1.6 million came out due to covid to fill positions, and now we’re putting $1.4 million back into that.

Smith: There are existing positions, filling vacancies? 

Horton: Yes, the money is just money not spent on vacant positions. 

Borden: With overtime and court costs post-COVID, there’s going to be a backlog that needs to be worked through, no increase expected there? 

Horton: The courts can only do so much at one time, we don’t expect them to be able to increase the rate at which they can hold trials. The $27,300 increase in court time is just the annual pay rates going up. 

Borden: I just wanted to know if there was an increase in capacity.

Horton: Not at this time. 

Borden: Is there cannabis funding coming to municipalities and provinces. Any news on that? Did we get a cheque? 

CAO: I do not have a cannabis Christmas gift for you, no. I’m not optimistic.

Borden: If it hasn’t happened yet it’s probably not going to, so I’m not going to ask again. There had been talk about a different type of officer for different types of service, is that still being explored?

Kinsella: There’s no money in that area. You’re talking about the reserve officer program? 

Borden: Yeah.

Kinsella: Anyone who does that program needs to do full HRP training, so it’ll depend on the spring class.

Borden: Is the position to clear the disposition backlog, is this an ongoing full-time position? 

Kinsella: Yes, we believe there’s enough for a full-time position. We have 15 years of dispositions waiting to be entered. 

Borden: Are we at full capacity for Victim Services? 

Kinsella: No, we’re down by one position. We have one coordinator and two caseworkers, we’re looking to fill the support role. 

Borden: Where are we at for the new HRP facility?

Frasier: The new HRP headquarters is on the four-year plan, there’s a million dollars set aside to start the design. 

Borden: I’m encouraged to see the attention put on the training by the HRP. It’s part of the Wortley report and the apology, it’s critically important. Training is not one and done, it requires an ongoing commitment. 

MacDougall: Is there an end date for the collective agreements? 

Staff: We’re in the throes of negotiations at the moment. 

Kent: Underestimated budget pressures, what has been typical of the boots on the street program? 

Kinsella: That funding is ongoing from the Department of Justice. It’s $3.8 million, it pays for officers to support boots on the streets programs. 

Kent: It’s not a line item, does it change the budget? 

Horton: It doesn’t have a number because it won’t show up unless we don’t get the money. 

Borden: We normally have an in-depth budget meeting in December or January, so we will be doing that. It’s 3:10 PM, should we do the RCMP budget? 

Gray: We expect to spend everything allocated to us, it’s been a consistent $3.6 million. But overtime has been lower because people couldn’t take a vacation at the start of COVID. I can take questions, but I won’t have specifics until the province gives us our budget. 

Borden: Committee on Defunding the Police.

MacDougall: Things Councillor Blackburn and I think we need to include: Support from the Clerk’s Office for coordinating meetings, making sure messaging is consistent with what we are trying to do, identifying one email address for submissions. We need to make sure we can get public engagement with communities with little to no internet access. We had a conversation about honorariums and identifying potential people to be on the committee. We need some sort of trauma-informed support available. 

Blackburn: We coordinated with clerks and they said we couldn’t have an ASL interpreter, but I sit on another committee where we have one, so we need the clerks to respond to that one. It is not our policy or practice to hand out honorariums, but we did it in the case of the Cornwallis committee because it was work intensive, so this should be similar. The Board of Police Commissioners budget, of which we have $9000 still available, so we could allocate that. That’s our update from the subcommittee. 

Kent: Would it put anyone in stress to defer the honorarium conversation? 

Blackburn: The money would be for funding the committee overall, not just honorariums. We’d like the money to be available so they can start doing this work. We also need to have the conversation with Professor Jones to see how she would want to move forward with this. The job of this budget is just to establish a framework for resources to get Jones the resources she needs to start doing that work.

Kent: I’d like to know how this money will be spent before we spend it, can we get Professor Jones to come in and explain how she’d spend this money? I’m really happy to see trauma-informed support. 

Borden: I’ll make sure to talk to you after this meeting because we got a lot of this information last meeting, and we really don’t want to be delaying this for no reason. 

Smith: I have to leave at 3:30 PM, so I won’t bring anything up if I can’t be here for the answer. Were we supposed to do deferred stuff first? 

Borden: Yes, but we moved our priorities up, and did them first. 

Smith: Will we need more meetings in January? 

Borden: Yes. 

CAO: I also need to leave soon, are you making a decision on spending today? If so I need to weigh in. 

Borden: My expectation was that we’d have a motion allowing Jones to move forward with the expectation that we could fund it. 

CAO: We paid the Cornwallis honorariums by using an Administrative Order, in order to better capture the community and cultural expertise. So we’d need to go back to council for this, given the precedent. We could also do it in a competitive process like we do for peer juries. 

Borden: Is there a motion? 

Blackburn: We allocate $9,000 from the Board of Police Commissioners budget to fund the Committee on Defunding the Police. 

Borden: Can I propose a friendly amendment? Tagging on to the end of that, additional details and specifics of spending to come back to the Board of Police Commissioners. 

Staff (Ward): I’m not sure what the authority is, you may want to double check. Or make the motion include, ‘pending confirmation of the ability to do so.’

Borden: Can we do that? 

Blackburn: Sure, but I think we can just spend it? It’s our budget? We don’t need approval to spend money to do our work if it’s highlighters or whatever. 

Staff (Ward): You might not, this is just in case. 

Blackburn: MOTION: That the Board of Police Commissioners allocate $9000 from the Board of Police Commissioners budget to fund the formation of the Committee on Defunding the Police pending confirmation of the board’s jurisdiction to so.

Kent: Of the budget of $11,000 and there’s $9,000 left, what is that used for normally? 

Blackburn: Supporting meetings, rental of space off site or whatever. 

Kent: What happens if we don’t spend it? 

Blackburn: Good question.

Borden: We’ll also have more information in the police budget meeting since we get our money from them.

Kent: I want to support this, I think the work is critically important. I’m just struggling to understand what this money will be spent on, because it’s the rest of the money for this committee until when, March 31st? If this is to start them off, why not give them half of the $9,000?

Borden: We’re not saying we’re going to spend it, we’re saying it’s available so that the planning that needs to be done can factor in having money. It may not seem like we’ve done this due diligence coming in halfway through this process.

Staff (Ward): We can add ‘up to $9,000’.

Borden: Does that work? 

Blackburn: Yes

MacDougall: Yes, and we can also talk to you offline to bring you up to speed.

Kent: Yes, thank you.

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Borden: One last thing procedurally, we’ll have to defer the rest of the stuff. Can I get a motion to do that?

MacDougall: Can we amend the last bit to not restrict ourselves to Halifax Hall when in-person meetings happen again? 

Borden: Sure.

Staff: You technically can’t do that. 

M/S/C – Vote – Unanimous – Aye

Borden: Can we accommodate MacDougall’s request? 

Staff: Yes, shouldn’t be an issue.  

Borden: Can I get a motion to approve our meeting schedule? 

M/S/C – Unanimous – Vote – Aye

Borden: Heads up, next meeting we’re voting on a new Chair.

*Meeting adjourns*

Interviews:

N/A – COVID

Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Previous 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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