On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the HRM’s Board of Police Commissioners met. Since last year’s police budget consultation process went so poorly, the city is starting police budget discussions early this year. At Wednesday’s meeting, the board was supposed to get a presentation on next year’s proposed budget, but new acting Halifax Regional Police chief Don MacLean told the board it was only his third day on the job, so he didn’t feel like he was up to speed on this year’s budget. More detailed budget information can be expected in the near future as MacLean gets his sea legs under him.
The rest of the meeting was dominated by the discussion of the new headquarters the HRP needs. As The Coast reported in 2018, the current building is in desperate need of repairs. There are human rights issues here, too: What is considered an acceptable space in which to detain people has changed dramatically since the 1970s, and even since the planning for this new police station began a few years ago.
Even though the board is supportive of a new headquarters, at this point it’s an easy political win for the commissioners to support it. It costs nothing to add the police station to the city’s long-term budget forecast, and this is likely why commissioner Lisa Blackburn asked for an updated report to start that process.
The cost of a new headquarters is currently estimated at $100 million, but that estimate will be refined as the design gets closer to completion. One of the big holdups—and one of the reasons it would be very dumb to sink a bunch of money into a police headquarters—is that the city is in the process of updating its Public Safety Strategy. This policy update aims to fundamentally change what police do in our society, and it will likely end up moving some stuff away from police to other public services that make more sense. Cops waiting with people in ERs on medical calls, for example, is a massive waste of police resources. It would be foolish to spend $100 million on a building if the city doesn’t know what purposes the building will serve.
CAO Cathie O’Toole said it would be unwise to commit money while the public safety update is happening, and stressed that it’s important for the city to know what it needs before it starts spending real money. To O’Toole’s credit, the experts who wrote the book on why big projects fail agree with her reasoning.
But with the current municipal budget pressures (AKA the city being perpetually broke due to the underlying unsustainability of suburban development and automotive infrastructure) and the demand for money for capital projects (AKA libraries, fire stations, arenas and stadiums) it is likely realistic to expect a new police station by the late 2030s.