Halifax council votes for policing services review

North Preston resident Evangeline Downey came to Halifax's Grand Parade Tuesday to publicize a "parade of cars" protest over policing concerns for her community this weekend.

Armed with pamphlets, she gave one to Mayor Mike Savage as he headed into City Hall to continue the day's council meeting.

When asked how she feels policing is working for her community, Downey's answer was blunt.

"How is it working? It's not working."

"What they need to do is they need to do the work concerning restorative justice … They need to talk to the people in the community," she said.

An hour and a half after her visit to Grand Parade, city council voted unanimously for an independent review of how policing services are delivered in the city.

Ever since the city amalgamated 25 years ago, Halifax has had two police forces: Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia district RCMP.

Halifax Regional Coun. Tony Mancini brought forward the motion to seek the review, in an effort to determine whether to stick with that status quo.

"Is this police model for our municipality today," he asked in an interview with CTV News before he made his motion, "And not only today, but for tomorrow?"

With Halifax Regional Police serving most of urban Halifax, and the RCMP covering outlying areas, Mancini thought it might be time to take into account how the city has changed over the past several decades, and how it may continue to grow in the future.

"Maybe we don't have RCMP cover all the communities they cover now because they've grown so much, or maybe it's one police force," he said. "What's that look like?"

That's something other councillors would like to know as well.

For Halifax Regional Coun. Paul Russell, who represents Lower Sackville, it's a question of balance.
His district is home to an RCMP detachment. Russell says right now in the municipality, there's a ratio of one RCMP member for every 750 residents in the areas covered by the Mounties. For the rest of the city, the ratio is one HRP officer for every 450 people.

"I welcome this review to have a look and make sure, the service that the RCMP are providing and the service that the HRP are providing are the right mix," Russell said after the vote.

For Halifax Regional Coun. Pam Lovelace, it's a matter of having the right resources in the right places.

Her district, which is largely rural and covers a wide geographic area, relies on the RCMP.
And, while she would like to see more coverage, the city has no control over that or any other potential RCMP policing issues.

"The agreement with the RCMP is through the province, and not with HRM," she said. "Therefore the RCMP has a different level of accountability to the Police Commissioners and Halifax Regional Council."

That issue was brought up by several councillors during debate over the motion for a review, with several expressing the need for common standards for policing practices.

Last December, an RCMP street chase through a Halifax neighborhood, and a subsequent raid at an apartment building near a high school, led to concerns over communication between the two police agencies.

"I believe there are some gaps, and that's concerning," said Mancini. "Is one chain of command better in those situations?"

The independent review into policing services is the latest for the city, which is already involved in two other reviews looking at police resources and the question of "defunding" the police.

The province of Nova Scotia is also undertaking its own review of policing throughout the province.

Tuesday, the Department of Justice said that "preliminary analysis … is looking at both RCMP contract policing jurisdictions, as well as those served by municipal police."

In regards to Halifax's reviews, it said, "HRM is responsible for determining how they choose to provide effective and sustainable policing services to citizens within the municipality."

As for Halifax's two police forces, both HRP and the RCMP say they welcome the process.

In a statement, the RCMP added that, "Policing is and should be continually evolving. Regular and open communication with the HRM Board of Police Commissioners ensures the RCMP's policing services meet communities' varied needs and community members' expectations in consideration of resources."