Halifax police propose expanding hate crime unit with $95M budget in 2023
The Halifax Regional Police plan to expand a hate crime unit and add its own psychologist as part of next year’s proposed $95.2 million budget.
Chief Dan Kinsella gave the city’s board of police commissioners an overview of the budget this week, including a request for a new hate crime investigator that would bring the unit to two full-time officers.
The number of hate incidents reported to Halifax Regional Police (HRP) took a huge leap this year, reaching 156 on November 2, compared to just three last year. There were also 61 confirmed or suspected hate crimes in the first 10 months of this year, compared to 13 in 2021.
The force began tracking reported hate incidents in 2021 but has long kept figures on confirmed or suspected hate crimes. Kinsella said it’s important to track overall incidents to spot trends.
“This particular resource will go a long way in helping address the continued high numbers we expect,” Kinsella told the board.
“That’s what we want. We want the community to come forward so we can properly investigate and properly prevent some of these incidents.”
Timothy Bryan, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, said that with any crime statistic, it’s difficult to know whether an increase reflects an increase in the crime itself or simply more people reporting whatever happened.
However, he agreed that tracking the total number of incidents is vital, along with having enough resources in a hate crime unit to both track the data and outreach to build trust in marginalized communities.
“It goes a long way in allaying fears within communities, goes a long way in making people feel accepted and welcome and fully participating in society,” Bryan said in an interview.
“It’s a really, really important part of what I think is the mandate of the police. … I think that’s a key area that needs to be strengthened.”
Bryan also said investing in dedicated hate crime officers who have the right training and skills can help police intervene before the situation escalates.
“We also know … those who commit hate incidents may actually act more seriously at some point,” Bryan said. “Without recording these incidents, you may have no idea that something more serious could be on the way.”
A new in-house psychologist and company nurse are also part of the proposed budget to better support officers’ mental health and help them return to work, Kinsella said.
The psychologist would have the opportunity to join officers on calls and gain a better understanding of the stresses of frontline policing, Kinsella said, while also building trusting relationships.
Dean Stienburg, president of the Halifax Regional Police Association, said he was pleased with the request for new mental health support, which the union had been pushing for. He added that officers are burning out due to understaffing.
“Getting people healthy and getting them back to work is a priority and I think that’s a good step in the right direction,” Stienburg said.
The new resources, plus a sergeant position for the Emergency Response Team’s K9 squad and a director of the police science program, would cost about $628,000 according to the budget.
The overall budget increased by approximately $6 million from the previous year, primarily due to an increase in civil servant salaries. The 2021 deal gave HRP union members a 10 percent pay rise over four years between 2020 and 2023.
RCMP calls for 16 officers over three years
Halifax RCMP has also shared its budget plan with the board and is asking for 16 new officers over the next three years. According to the report, many former rural communities in the Halifax Regional Municipality have grown at an “extraordinary rate” over the past five years, and they need more members to keep up.
The current annual cost for an RCMP officer in Halifax is $179,052, which includes salary, vehicle costs, overtime, and equipment. That’s 70 percent of an officer’s total cost, with the rest being borne by the federal government. That means the four Mounties requested for next year would cost the community about $716,200.
The Board of Police Commissioners will hold a public meeting on both budgets on January 16, before submitting the funding requests to the Regional Council on February 1, 2023.