I am writing to you as the Halifax Regional Municipality is faced with significant budget constraints brought on by COVID-19, to urge you to begin changing the way the City approaches community safety and law enforcement, and begin reallocating funding from the Halifax Regional Police to other community safety initiatives. I would urge you to start by restoring the full budget cut of $5.5 million proposed for the Halifax Regional Police, and allocating the $2 million in savings that was identified to other community health and safety initiatives.
As a citizen, I have grown increasingly concerned about the effectiveness of our current approach to law enforcement, and particularly the negative impacts it has on African Nova Scotians, Indigenous people, and racialized communities.
From the Marshall Inquiry to the Wortley report, we have had numerous wake-up calls in terms of how racialized groups are often unfairly targeted by law enforcement and the justice system in Halifax and across Nova Scotia.
Recent events in the US have highlighted the dangers of police violence and police militarization. Closer to home, the tragic shooting of Chantel Moore underscores the problems of using police officers to conduct "wellness checks", and other functions they were never intended to carry out.
I have a number of colleagues, friends, and family, who work in the criminal justice system. Their roles are varied, but they make similar observations about their work: that the vast majority of behaviour that the criminal justice system deals with is not rooted in ill intent, but is rooted in addiction and mental health issues, problems the criminal justice system is not well equipped to solve. As a result, we are often sending police officers to deal with problems they are not in a good position to deal with. We have, as one person put it, turned the police into "social workers with guns". This is an expensive solution with often disastrous results. We need to change our approach, and start transitioning from that form of policing, to broader community health and wellness initiatives.
Councillors, you can't control many aspects of the justice system. But you do have control of one thing: police oversight, and the police budget. We are in a budget crisis, but in crisis comes opportunity. The opportunity to shift our priorities. The opportunity to do things differently.
Chief Kinsella himself has said that the $5.5 million cut will not affect community safety. Take those savings and re-allocate them to initiatives that will make a difference: mental health and addiction services. Community based patrols (for a good example, see the work that the Bear Clan Patrol has done in urban centres and Indigenous communities in Western Canada).
Start doing the things that will reduce our dependence on police, courts, and prisons to solve our social problems.If you do, we can emerge from this crisis as a stronger, healthier, and safer community.