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Nova Scotia Policing Review: addressing the municipal elephant not in the room?

Just so you know, I am not in the “reviews are a waste of time” camp.


Too often, we complain that reviews or task forces won’t tell us anything we don’t already know. In my experience, a good review shines a light in places we don’t always look at, and it exposes our blind spots. Above all, it (should) provide meaningful and actionable solutions.


So, the September 29th announcement in Nova Scotia of a policing services review is intriguing news. As was the absence of any mention of municipal involvement.


Policing is complicated and getting more so. Of course, there is the continuing challenge of addressing systemic racism and the use of force. Whether you believe these issues to be truly systemic or not, no one can deny police forces have a public trust issue to overcome.


There is also the burgeoning cost of providing policing - staff, equipment, and infrastructure. The increased costs municipalities bear thanks to the national RCMP contract alone – negotiated by the federal government without municipal input – stands as a stark testament. Many municipalities are now questioning whether they can afford the RCMP.


Throw into the mix the growing conversation about the role of police when dealing with situations driven by mental health or addiction challenges. Are armed or enforcement responses right or even effective?


All of the above have rekindled calls for greater civilian oversight of police and protective services.


It’s a lot. One thing is certain, though – no matter HOW these policy issues play out, we know WHERE they will play out. In municipalities. So, if this review is to deliver any real solutions – a seat at the table for municipalities is fundamental.


The Nova Scotia Department of Justice news release says the review advisory committee “…will include people from equity-deserving groups, the provincial government, police agencies, subject matter experts and diverse community representatives.” All necessary partners in this work. But where are municipalities on this list? Will they be in the room when these discussions are happening?


Why is this so important? Two reasons:


1. Municipalities have a financial and operational stake in police services. Nova Scotia already has municipal police forces, and more are being discussed. Municipalities are already involved in related enforcement activities that need to be considered. And municipal budgets pay for a percentage of the cost of all policing services.


2. We’ve already seen the near-catastrophic effects of ignoring municipal voices in reviews like this. Municipalities were not at the table during these prolonged and complicated contract negotiations between the federal government and the RCMP. Even though municipal budgets are required by law to share the costs of these services, the resultant mandated RCMP cost increases may prove entirely unreachable for many municipalities, including a retro pay requirement that was announced too late in the year for municipalities to even budget for it! The impact on municipal residents is unequivocally negative.


Municipalities are frequently described as “creatures of the provinces.” Beyond the obvious patronizing and demeaning tone of the phrase, it holds a dangerous assumption. That municipalities can simply adjust to whatever the provinces throw at them. The reality is that municipal governments are complex and often on a knife-edge when it comes to resources versus demands.


The RCMP debacle is a warning. The Nova Scotia police review advisory committee must include municipal representation.


As always, you can reach me at craig@strategicsteps.ca.



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