On Monday, January 17 the final report from the defining defunding the police subcommittee of the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners was presented at the commissioners’ virtual meeting.
The 218-page report is the culmination of months of work by committee members El Jones, Tari Ajadi, Julia Rodgers, Harry Critchley and others. “The report is the result of many hours of labour and care from people in the community. It is also a start—not an end—to public engagement and involvement around defunding and provides a roadmap for the Police Board and the municipality moving forward,” said Jones through a press release.
The committee engaged in months of public consultation and received 2,351 submissions from community members. The results saw more women (69 percent) and gender diverse people (79 percent) say they were in favour of defunding the police than men (41 percent). Overall, 56.8 percent of people were in favour of defunding police as a concept.
“A friend was once pulled over with me in the car and it was a standard stop but five other police cars pulled up,” said one submission. “It was very stressful for no reason…my friend driving just forgot to turn her lights on or something.”
“I do not support defunding police though I would like police to consider how they spend their budget,” said a different community member. “I struggle with the purchases of armoured vehicles and body cameras.”
The report was first requested by the BOPC in early March 2021. Jones said the total cost was $9,000 for graphic design and community consultations, and no subcommittee members were paid for the project.
On Monday, Jones and the other main authors of the report held a technical briefing to go over the details in advance of the presentation to the BOPC. “As we looked at the surveys, as we heard from community and community service organizations, a certain picture emerged of what people wanted what people's concerns were,” said Jones on Zoom. “And in aggregating those, we put them into four connected sections.”
“People very much get scared when they hear defunding the police because what they hear is not having anything that keeps social order. And we wanted to try and shift that idea through the report.”
In total, 36 recommendations come from the report, divided into four pillars: internal accountability and oversight reforms; detasking or retasking to community service providers; legislative reforms; and financial reforms.
In the end, the main recommendations are aimed less towards defunding and more towards detasking and providing more funding to capable community organizations, and reducing Halifax Regional Police budget increases as opposed to decreasing the HRP budget outright.
“That is really in many ways the core of what defunding looks like in practice,” said Jones. “Detasking is simply moving tasks from the police that they are not equipped to do that more properly belong in other sectors, such as mental health care.”
Other areas to detask include sexual assault responses, housing and addictions, and even traffic. But there’s no exact number given in the report of how much funding should be reallocated, partly because, as Jones said, “we cannot possibly know what the capacities of community service organizations are.”
The sectors and jurisdictions that are specified in each of the 36 recommendations vary. For example, recommendation 1 is that the Police Board conduct a “comprehensive independent review of all training programs delivered by the HRP and RCMP, with the aim of promoting transparency, accountability, and public confidence in the training police receive.”
Recommendation 26 is that “Regional Council should examine opportunities to remedy funding gaps (including gaps in operational funding) in sexual assault prevention and response services in the municipality through the creation of a grant program.”
And recommendation 31 is that “The Police Board and Regional Council should aim to bring per capita spending on the HRP more closely in line with cities of comparable size and population across Canada, such as London, Ontario (especially in light of rising costs associated with the Halifax District RCMP).
“Detasking is simply moving tasks from the police that they are not equipped to do that more properly belong in other sectors, such as mental health care.”
Jones said she hopes the practical recommendations of the report will avoid being sensationalized or overly politicized, and that even those who are against “defunding” the police can appreciate it and start to think differently about reallocating resources.
“As defunding has become a slogan, it’s become politicized in the way that people hear it and they associate it with a number of things. So one of the things we wanted to do in the report was clarify it and perhaps demystify it,” Jones said.
“People very much get scared when they hear defunding the police because what they hear is not having anything that keeps social order—that we would just have a state of disorder and violence and fear. And we wanted to try and shift that idea through the report, and address the idea that we don't need to invest all of our social energies into punishment, we can also seek other solutions. The police should be a last resort and not a first resort.”
Jones’ presentation of the report to the Board of Police Commissioners was agenda item 10.2.1 at Monday’s meeting, the video version of which can be found on YouTube. After presenting the outline of the report, board members including Carole MacDougall and city councillors Lisa Blackburn, Lindell Smith and Becky Kent thanked Jones and the subcommittee for their work.
“I think you hit on a lot of the main points,” said Smith. “And in a future meeting, we can dig down a little deeper if needed.”
“Just wanted to personally thank Doctor Jones and her team, an amazing job,” said Blackburn. “This report is everything I wanted it to be and then some, and just a heads up that at the next meeting I’ll be bringing forward a motion.”
Blackburn said that motion would be to form another BOPC subcommittee to go over the 36 recommendations in detail and determine who had jurisdiction over each. MacDougall said she would second that motion.
To show that the BOPC was taking the report seriously, commissioner Kent moved to accept the report and thank the subcommittee, which was passed unanimously. Commissioner Smith said the report would be reviewed again at the next meeting, and the board would likely have “a meeting specifically focused on this” in the future.