Board of Police Commissioners, Feb. 2, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
The HRM has a surprising lack of oversight into the operations of the RCMP within its jurisdiction.
In last week’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting Chair Lindell Smith asked for a detailed breakdown of the RCMP budget last meeting, but CAO Dubé forgot to include it. Smith also wanted to know what the HRP was asking for in capital spending to avoid another ‘tank’ surprise. Both items were included in, and the only reason for, today’s meeting.
Since the RCMP agreement is predominantly between the province and the federal government, the HRM doesn’t get access to a lot of the details of how the $27.8 million is spent unless the appropriate federal or the province authority decides to share that information.
The meeting did provide some insight into how the RCMP operates within the municipality. Councillor Becky Kent again raised concerns about street safety due to things like drivers speeding and wanted to know what the RCMP was doing to prevent it. RCMP’s Officer in Charge Janis Gray said that the RCMP has just purchased two Armadillos which are two “discrete” pieces of equipment that gather traffic information to better inform policing. Although she didn’t say what they are or say what they look like, the PID Armadillo videoguard seems to fit the bill.
Gray also said that the RCMP’s traffic officers use CompStat to inform where officers should set up speed traps. CompStat is a computer statistic system that was first introduced by the NYPD. Which then quietly failed the city of New York for decades by incentivizing the wrong type of policing. But programs like CompStat give data based on what’s put into them. If the police arrest a bunch of people outside of predominantly Black neighbourhoods, the computer will tell them that’s where crime is, and that’s where they should set up. Which is exactly the type of police practice that can create a self-reinforcing feedback loop and be used to justify maintaining a practice of systemic racism (CT has asked the RCMP for more information about this).
Kent also asked about community engagement to increase safety and Gray explained COVID has hindered her officers’ ability to play sports with kids and talk to seniors.
The Board of Police Commissioners is trying to get more information on how the RCMP spends its money in the HRM.
Chief Kinsella of the Halifax Regional Police also gave a presentation laying out HRP’s capital budget requests. They’re looking for $184,000 for video monitoring upgrades, $509,000 for digital communications upgrades and $235,000 for interview room recording upgrades. They’re also asking for $500,000 for equipment replacement (like bulletproof vests) and $800,000 for cars.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Smith: On to the meeting, RCMP budget.
Gray: We’re acknowledging the board’s request to have more information, but the DoJ, Public Safety and Securities division, are who you need to talk to for more information, I am not permitted to provide you all the information. The provincial DoJ is who should be in these budget meetings in the future. The cost for the RCMP in the HRM is $27.8 million, I have control over $3.6 million of this money. The province picks up 30 per cent of the cost of RCMP’s policing, the HRM pays 70 per cent. We won’t get our budget from the province until April but expect the budget to stay the same. We’re under budget this year since we didn’t have overtime because no one could take vacation. The HRM pays for 183 officers and 1 civilian. Each officer costs the HRM $151,381 ($217,031 total). We’re requesting an administrative support staff sergeant for a bunch of reasons, but primarily, right now, dealing with officer complaints is a secondary duty for someone. Inspector Pepper doesn’t have an NCO (non-commissioned officer), which she needs. Most of our MOUs are outdated, so they need to be updated. The reporting requirements for everything were just added to Pepper’s workload without giving her any help. For any further information on our service delivery model, you need to contact the DoJ.
Smith: Power went out in the North End. What’s O and M in the budget?
Gray: Operations and Management.
McDougall: HRM is billed on quarterly basis, calendar quarter? Fiscal quarter?
Gray: I’d guess fiscal, April 1 – March 31.
McDougall: In your discretionary spending budget, you say you have direct control over $3.6 million for fuel, kit and clothing, etc. But in the cost per officer, it has the same expenses listed how does that work.
Gray: I’ll remind you this formula is complex. We have overtime and fuel worked into the cost per officer formula, but if they need more that’s at my discretion.
Kent: Same question I asked Kinsella last meeting. What’s your perspective on safe streets and speeding? What resources of yours are going into tackling this? Are your officers making community connections? Are you returning to that approach? What are you saying to the people who make decisions on the budget on our behalf?
Gray: Speeding and other road safety are one of our key elements on our annual performance plan, and will continue to be on our annual performance plan into the next fiscal. Our dedicated traffic enforcement people work on a CompStat model (first set up by the NYPD which accidentally encourages bad policing, listen to this Reply All series for more details) which tells us where to set up. We’ve upped our drunk driving stats by 46 per cent which demonstrates our members are on the road checking vehicles (prevention?). We have a comms strategy, there’s one week for speeding and one week for seatbelts. We have new equipment, armadillos (it’s a camera) that gives us information, but we rely on our communities to tell us where they’re having issues. Rest assured, our members are dedicated to road safety.
Kent: Do you need me to reiterate the parts about crime prevention and community connection?
Gray: Community policing and crime reduction are combined in our annual performance plan, school officers and community offices are part of this section. When it comes to budget asks for community policing, we have specific asks for programs sometimes, but not at this time. We don’t know if we need more school officers or community officers yet, our audit isn’t complete yet. Connecting with community and operations are both important so it’s challenging with resource allocation to choose between them. COVID has had a significant impact on the engagement with our communities. It’s been hard to play sports with the kids and talk to seniors. We’ll continue to do our best.
Kent: I live in the hope that COVID will end, and normal-ish will come back. Communications is an area I’d like to see more of what you’re doing. We need a wake-up call to the public, reminding them of the harm of speeding. We have more people than ever on their gadgets and they’re tuned into that, so we need to be more responsive to that in communications. We might need to be more graphic with this. So I’d like to see your communication strategy and where the education piece comes in.
Borden: The RCMP is under budget and quarterly payments are made, is there a reconciliation process to reflect that?
Gray: I think so, it’d be through the province though.
McDougall: You have safety week and a few other kinds of things. Can we get a calendar of those weeks? So maybe we can amplify things on social media?
Gray: I can get that to you.
Smith: Does the province give you details on how to spend the money? Or just give you money?
Gray: It’s mostly pay.
Smith: In the past, when you get the budget from the province, what details does it have with how to spend the money? What does that look like?
Gray: I deal with the finance people in H division, and they talk to the province. I only have access to my $3.6 million discretionary budget. They don’t give us direction to what it’s for, beyond the mandatory payments, like wages.
Smith: So they don’t say, here’s an amount for community engagement, here’s an amount for communications, they just say ‘here’s your money, do policing’?
Smith: O and M budget, for us, when it comes to the discretionary part of the budget, where is the legislation that directs that? Who gives you that money and who are you accountable to for spending it?
Gray: It’s complex, I’m told what my budget is, but I’m not told how to spend it. The province dictates our budget.
Smith: So if we wanted to know the breakdown of every dollar you’re spending we’d have to go to the province for that?
Smith: You know what you’re spending, but you’re accountable to the province?
Gray: Yes we’re the service provider, but I’d suggest you go to the HRM for that since they’re in the contract. But I’m just guessing?
Smith: Fraser, if we wanted more information on how the RCMP is spending that money how do we get that.
Fraser: A letter to the province, the bigger question is our 70 per cent ($19.46 million) how that’s being spent.
Smith: Has the BOPC ever asked for that before?
Fraser: I don’t think so.
Smith: We should ask for that next year.
Gray: Someone from the province is presenting on our behalf on Feb. 16, she’s from the DoJ, so she’d be the person to ask about our budget.
Smith: If the board sent a letter to ask for it, would that be helpful?
Gray: I don’t think that presentation is the right place for that information, but she can give more context.
Borden: Why do we want that information? Can we influence it? We should know what we want to achieve with that information before we get it.
Smith: I think it’s important to understand how the $27 million is being spent. It gives us more detailed information about the context. And it just gives more transparency. Do we need a motion to send this to council?
Clerk: I think the motion from the last BOPC does it.
Legal: The board can make a motion if they have recommendations, but I don’t think a motion is required to move it on.
Smith: On to HRP’s capital expenditures plan. This is just for our information since these purchases go straight to council.
Kinsella: HRP is subject to HRM’s capital planning process. Our capital needs in past years have been for operational capabilities or facility upgrades. In-flight (ongoing) projects, equipment like bulletproof vests and firearms ($500,000), and cars ($800,000). The three new projects we want are:
Kinsella: We need the upgrades to keep our equipment current and functional.
Blackburn: The in-flight items, is that a standing capital budget item? Is it every couple of years?
Kinsella: It’s a standing budget item, we don’t replace the same equipment every year, but we do replace some equipment every year. Same with vehicles. But we try and manage the wear on our cars, by rotating the cars in and out of high volume areas.
Blackburn: A number of cars are put out to pasture every year?
Blackburn: The car budget is the same this year as past years?
Kinsella: Yeah, the HRM’s really good at managing the wear on them.
Blackburn: When the vehicle is decommissioned what happens to it?
Kinsella: We recently reviewed our process, but we remove everything off the car and recycled if they can be, but otherwise they’re destroyed. Most of the police vehicles now won’t be resold or put back into circulation. They sometimes have value for parts, but anything that goes out into the public we make sure it can’t be ID’d as a police vehicle.
Blackburn: Is this a recent change?
Kinsella: Yes. The process is changing nationally. There’s a report that came out of Bill Blair’s office that’s quite concerning. It’s one thing to have things that look like police gear, and it’s another thing to have the real deal. Since the tragedy in April, we have all been committed to ensuring we’re closing any gaps that exist.
McDougall: New premises, this capital budget is projected to 2025, has the new HQ been shelved?
Kinsella: This presentation is just for this fiscal, but the first installment for capital budget is $1 million in 2024-2025 for the new HQ. It’s a long term project, there’s $4 million in 2025-2026, but that’s still really far out, a lot can change between now and then. It’s still on the radar and we’re moving, but it’s long term.
McDougall: I’d like a tour of the process on Gottingen after COVID so commissioners can get an idea of the limitations of the current building.
Smith: The new 2021-22 projects, why are they needed now? Can we get a quick background? On the in-flight stuff, in the 18-19 budget we approved $1 million for fleet and $460,000 for replacement equipment. When you come back to council can we get an understanding of what those items are? I just want to understand why you need another $800,000 three years after getting $1 million.
Kinsella: The new projects are all IT related, all IT products have a shelf life for one reason or another. Interview rooms were upgraded in 2013 and we like to use things for as long as we can. The communications piece, the move to 5G, means we can’t respond to the 5G environment. If we don’t replace now, we’ll begin to see a diminishing of returns. We stuck with analog video for as long as we could, but we’re now struggling to get parts. For the in-flight stuff, not all of the equipment is replaced at the same time. Bulletproof vests have a shelf life of 10 years, we replace them every five years because we can’t replace all 500 of our bulletproof vests at once. I can get a breakdown of the vehicle costs to explain the breakdown, but it’s similar to the bulletproof vests.
Smith: I’d request that when you come to council you have the information to give us the context of those numbers. Adjournment?
Gray: Chair, I did find information on the Armadillo. I won’t be providing a picture since they’re discreet, and we don’t want people to know what they look like. We have two, they monitor stuff.
Commissioner Lindell Smith, Chair (Councillor, District 8)
Commissioner Carole McDougall, Vice-Chair
Commissioner Becky Kent (Councillor, District 3)
Commissioner Lisa Blackburn (Councillor, District 14)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:
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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