Police budget was passed in secret meeting

The Halifax Police Department budget was adopted in a secret meeting, in apparent violation of the Nova Scotia Police Act.

In Nova Scotia, elected governments approve overall police department budgets, but the budget details are entirely under the control of the boards of police commissioners. Budget documents presented to Halifax council Tuesday state plainly that Halifax's Board of Police Commissioners approved the department budget at its meeting of March 29.

But the agenda for that meeting makes no mention of the overall police budget, and minutes from the meeting show that the entire public portion of the meeting lasted just four minutes. The minutes show that discussion of the police budget was moved into an in camera (secret) session of the meeting.

Meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners are governed by the Nova Scotia Police Act, which contains the following proviso for secret meetings:

Public and private meetings
51 Meetings of the board are open to the public, but all matters relating to discipline, personnel conduct, contract negotiations and security of police operations may be conducted in private and, where the matter relates to a complaint against or the discipline of the chief officer, the chair may request that the chief not attend and the chief shall not attend. 2004, c. 31, s. 51.
No doubt commissioners will argue that budget discussions fall under the "security of police operations" category, but that's just silly, for several reasons. First, if the legislature wanted to allow budget discussions to be held in secret, it would have explicitly stated as much in the act. Second, even if details of the budget might conceivably have a security aspect, those details could be discussed in secret, with the rest of the budget discussion being held in public. Third, while legislation allows discussion of issues in secrecy, the actual vote has to be held in public--and the vote on the police budget was not held in public, as related by the minutes.

I've heard several times that police budget issues can't be discussed publicly because--- and I'm not kidding here--- criminals will find out where the police are spread thin, and the criminals will then concentrate their efforts in those areas. I haven't been aware of the Spryfield Mafia reporter showing up at Board of Police Commissioners meetings... but if they're really that resourceful, all the Mafia reporters have to do is go to the city website and download the budget directly.

The Board of Police Commissioners appear to have generally sloppy meeting controls. As I reported in this week's editorial, last week the Board added on an un-agendized discussion of a proposed $100,000 cut in the police budget, which it then rejected. It would've been nice to have known about the discussion, and maybe follow it, but if it's not on the agenda, it's as good as secret.

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