On Wednesday Oct. 18, Halifax’s Board of Police Commissioners had the first meeting in their budget pre-season. It’s largely unclear what the point of this meeting was, but we’ll get to that later.
The meeting started with Halifax Regional Police giving their first budget presentation of the 2024 budget season, asking for a grand total of 24 new staff members. The police want to hire some constables to wait in hospitals, but provided no supporting evidence for that request, except for new HRP chief Don MacLean’s speech, where he said the new hires were needed, citing stats he didn’t bring to the meeting for the board to consider. The police are making this request even though MacLean seems to be convinced there will be a civilian mental health response team stood up by the city this year.
The cops are also looking to hire one hate crime specialist because hate crimes are going up. How much? Who knows, this also is information the HRP did not bring to the meeting, even though it was referenced by MacLean in his request.
After the police finished making their presentation, commissioner Yemi Akindoju, an accountant by trade, pointed out that the police’s presentation was hot garbage because it's just budget requests made with absolutely zero context for these budget asks as they related to the rest of the police force. He told the board that they talk a lot about the HRM’s policing strategy, and were being asked to give approval to these budget asks because they were in line with the strategy, but he pointed out that with none of the underlying budgetary assumptions, there is no way to actually tell if these budget asks are in line with the board’s priorities.
Commissioner Harry Critchley said that he agrees with Akindoju, and that this is also his third year on the board where he's wanted more information from the police at budget time. Critchley pointed out that all of the anecdotes the chief used in his speech requesting these budget priorities are underpinned by facts and evidence, which he did not present to the board. Critchley pointed out that the HRP have asked for 24 people, which is a significant ask, but the police haven't actually proved they need it, so how can the board be sure these budget asks are in line with their priorities?
Chair of the board, city councillor Becky Kent, made the argument that the board actually could do its job with the information presented at the meeting, because the information presented was in line with the city's strategies. How she knows this is unclear. She then immediately switched to talking about how the police need a new headquarters and that should be a priority, and almost put a motion on the floor to try and ram through the police HQ. She was stopped by the city staff, who reminded her that the board did exactly that at the last meeting.
Kent was happy to completely ignore the absolute trash governance happening on her watch, even as two of her board members explained in great detail what specifically was broken with this budget process.
I’m now going to explain it again, for both Kent and the citizens who are ultimately being asked to pay the budget, using a common household analogy. While it’s true that governmental budget processes aren’t exactly the same as personal budgets, governmental planning and personal planning absolutely do overlap, so this analogy is more than fair enough to make the point. Here is yesterday’s meeting, re-imagined as an attempt to make a grocery shopping list.
Police chief: We are requesting 24 vegetables. This is in line with our meal priorities, as we are vegetarian.
Akindoju: I can get on board with eating vegetables, but I’d like to know how these new vegetables fit into our plan. How many vegetables do we have already? When do they go bad? How long do you expect these new vegetables to last? Will they be cooked before they go bad?
Critchley: Hey, even though we’re vegetarian, we can still eat fruit and alternative protein. Can I get some more information about why we’re just getting vegetables? I’ve asked for this for the past three years and haven’t gotten it yet, by the way.
Kent: This is enough information to decide if we like these vegetables, in principle, for the city’s financial people to start putting together a budget.
Akindoju: That is not possible if we don’t know how much the rest of our groceries will be.
Critchley: That is not possible if we don’t know why we need these vegetables specifically in the context of our meal plan.
Kent: Look, we like vegetables, it’s enough to say we like vegetables, and now let’s focus on the fact that the grocery store needs new fridges.
This meeting should not have happened like it did. In budget deliberations, budget assumptions and supporting data need to accompany budget requests. This meeting, the commissioners were asked if they wanted the police to add 24 officers to the budget for costing. And do the commissioners want to support these new units? At least two commissioners said they don't have enough information to know for sure. Critchley amended the motion so that the police have to provide the supporting evidence for their requests at the next meeting.
Brutal first meeting of 2024's budget pre-season.