Talking Dollars and Sense with the CBRPS

I watched Monday morning’s Police Commission meeting and discovered that Chief Robert Walsh had had COVID (Commissioner Lloyd Bailey references it at the 1:30:23 mark, saying to Walsh, “So, thank you for all your hard work and I know you were off with COVID.”)

According to what Walsh told the Cape Breton Post during this this December 2021 Q&A, he may have been one of the first CBRPS employees to have contracted the illness:

“To date, we have not had one employee contract COVID-19 — considering it’s almost two years, and that’s including our sworn-in and civilian staff,” Walsh told the Cape Breton Post in a year-end interview. “That speaks to how seriously they’ve taken it.”

I was curious about this, so asked spokesperson Desiree Magnus how many CBRPS employees had had COVID and she told me:

The municipality doesn’t disclose employee health information. The CBRPS workplace was affected to varying degrees, as all are, during this current wave of the pandemic.

First, the chief himself disclosed there had been no COVID cases in the CBRPS as of December 2021, which is what made me think discussing COVID cases in the CBRPS was something we were allowed to do. And second, asking for COVID statistics is not asking for “employee health information.” And third, the police department in Halifax apparently understands this, because it issues a press release when an employee tests positive.

But why share information unless you are legally compelled to, right?

 

“Soon”

The Police Commission consists of three CBRM councilors — Eldon MacDonald (District 5), Steve Gillespie (District 4) and James Edwards (District 8) — plus three “Citizen Appointees” — Dale Deering-Bert, Helen Luedee and Lloyd Bailey. (HRM’s website lists its Police Commission members and provides their bios, just sayin’.)

According to CBRM By-Law S1, the board of police commissioners should have seven members — three councilors, three civilian appointees and one “provincial citizen appointee by the Minister.”

I asked the Municipal Clerk’s Office where the CBRM’s provincial civilian appointee was and was told:

Presently the Provincial Appointee seat on the Board is vacant.

Ministerial Appointments are made by the Executive Council of the Province of Nova Scotia for Agencies, Boards and Commissions (ABCs) through their own application process. A request was forwarded by CBRM to the Minister of Justice to fill the vacancy on CBRM’s Police Commission.

It looks like the last provincial appointee was Joseph Gillis, who is last listed in attendance at a meeting on 22 June 2020. It also looks like there are 10 other municipal police boards in Nova Scotia waiting for a provincial appointee (I grabbed this screenshot on Tuesday):

Police Commissioner Vacancies, NS

I’m not sure how having an even number of commissioners works, given the commission does vote on matters — what happens in the event of a tie?

I asked the province why the provincial appointee seat was vacant and if there were any plans to fill it and was told:

The appointment process to fill the vacancy on the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s Board of Police Commissioners is ongoing. We expect to have a provincial appointee named soon.

Got that? “Soon.”

While we’re waiting for “soon,” let’s talk about the actual subject of Monday’s meeting: the 2022-23 CBRPS budget.

 

Operations

The $28 million budget presented by Chief Walsh on Monday represents a $1 million increase over last year’s budget and the chief says virtually all of the increase is attributable to an increase in wages, salaries and benefits for “previously negotiated contracts” with “sworn officers, jailers, [and] civilian inside workers such as records clerks and crossing guards.”

Walsh says the department is not asking for an increase to its operational budget for 2022-23 and has, instead, adjusted several line items within it to reallocate funds:

1. $2,000 decrease for photocopy supplies from $18,000 to $16,000

Walsh says the department came in “well under budget” in this area last year, possibly thanks to reduced paperwork resulting from court closures caused by COVID but also because the department is “doing more of its records work” electronically.

2. $15,000 decrease for telephone and fax from $225,000 to $210,000

Walsh says this line item has “fluctuated” over the past few years “as a result of the communications center moving under the technology department and its costs being “separated from the police budget.”

3. $40,000 increase for computer hardware from $155,000 to $198,000

Walsh noted that this line item was reduced last year, because the force had just completed a “significant replacement” of its computers, but this year the force needs to upgrade vehicle GPS systems and purchase “e-ticketing” printers.

e-ticket equipment

E-ticketing equipment (Source: Port Moody Police Department press release)

Police forces across the country have been moving to “electronic ticketing” (although the name is misleading as you can tell by the need for printers — the result is still a paper ticket).

Poking around on the internet, I discovered Ottawa Police Services (OPS) had requested $1.2 million for an e-ticketing system as far back as 2004 but even the application characterized OPS as a “trailblazer.” Halifax police began testing e-ticketing technology in 2012, sharing the $350,000 cost with the province.

The technology allows a police officer to scan someone’s driver’s license for their personal information, which auto-populates into the ticket. The police officer then chooses an offense and all the relevant information, including court dates, is also auto-populated. The system then prints a ticket for the driver and transfers the information wirelessly wherever it needs to go (the station, the courthouse).

The advantages mentioned most often are speed (I’ve read rather specific estimates like, it usually takes 15-20 minutes to hand write a ticket whereas issuing an electronic ticket takes 3 to 4) and accuracy.

None of the stories I was able to find online about Canadian police forces switching to e-ticketing said anything about the technology being used, and it seems that different forces choose different systems, as this site devoted to law enforcement tech notes:

One of the barriers to implementing e-citation is the necessary technology. To access software or other information from the cloud and to transmit the data collected when issuing a citation on a traffic stop, officers need reliable wireless connectivity out in the field. And all of the hardware and software being used must work together. The specifics will be different for every department based on what technology they already have in use and their individual needs.

And that’s just about enough about e-ticketing, except to note that the most vexed relationship I have in my life is with my printer and I wonder how often e-ticketing printers glitch?

4. $25,000 decrease for vehicle/equipment maintenance from $48,020 to $23,020

Walsh said this represents the end of stringent COVID cleaning requirements.

5. $2,000 increase for contracts/agreements from $28,000 to $30,000

Walsh said this was to cover “increasing costs as per CPI for contracted services.” I think this is police-speak for “inflation.”

 

Fees

Walsh said revenues are expected to be in line with last year’s at 75% of pre-pandemic levels, but this is where things got interesting, because the commission was also asked to approve a “fee structure” increase that would see the cops charge more for the records services it provides the public.

CB Regional Police Chief Robert Walsh

Robert Walsh

Walsh defended this by saying their fees haven’t risen since 2008, which sounds like a convincing argument only if you accept that a police department funded to the tune of $28 million by the public should be charging the public extra for anything — if you, like Councilor Gillespie, believe the “taxpayers” whose money needs to be saved by increasing fees are somehow different people from those who will be paying the increased fees.

According to the Issue Paper presented on Monday, “administrative records staff” are “generating overtime costs directly attributable to fulfilling requests for Criminal Record and Vulnerable Sector Checks and Motor Vehicle Collision reports for insurance”:

The costs for resources and supplies required to complete this volume of requests equals the cost of a full-time civilian records position.

And the department, rather than finding room in the existing budget for another full-time civilian records position (the way, as you will see, it found room for a full-time “civilian exhibit custodian”), has decided to jack up the fees it charges for records that many people working, studying or volunteering in this province have no choice but to obtain.

Walsh’s proposal would see the charge for a standard criminal record check stay at $30 while the price for a student check would double from $15 to $30, and that for a volunteer would rise from $0 to $15. Part of his argument was that “approximately 5,000” of their 6,500 annual requests — 80%! — are for volunteers who never pick them up. He argued that the fee would discourage pointless requests.

Commissioner Deering-Bert pointed out that it’s already difficult to attract volunteers in CBRM and wondered if this would further discourage people from volunteering. She said the commission didn’t want to “create hardships for organizations already experiencing hardships.”

Walsh acknowledged that they didn’t want to make record checks “cost prohibitive” and said they would “try to keep” the fee “as low as possible,” suggesting that the fee could be “nominal” to cover printing costs.

(Or here’s an idea — stop printing them. You’ve already discussed how you’re saving money by handling more records electronically, why not criminal record and vulnerable sector checks? Why not just email an electronic copy directly to the employer or volunteer organization? And if you must charge a fee, why not one that’s refunded when the document is collected?)

I wondered if doubling the cost to nursing students — the example used in the Issue Paper — for background checks would be a burden for them, so I asked Willena Nemeth, the director of nursing at CBU. She said nurses generally require two criminal record checks, one at the beginning of the two-year program, and a second, as well as a Vulnerable Sector Check, at the end, as they are ready to apply for their licensure exam with the NS College of Nursing. She said:

Any additional cost of course, is a concern for students. We try to include all anticipated costs for students prior to beginning the program. Noting it is subject to change.

Walsh admitted during the meeting that while collision investigation and reconstruction files are time-consuming, the department doesn’t actually get that many requests for them, which you can see from the fact that increasing the cost of a collision reconstruction report from $23 to $1,500 is expected to result in increased revenue of “approximately $3,000 a year” i.e. the revenue from TWO such requests, while increasing the cost of a collision investigation file from $0 to $345 a year is expected to increase revenues by $1,000 per year — i.e. the revenue from THREE such requests.

I can’t help but contrast the value of $4,000 to the CBRPS, given its $28 million budget, compared to the value of $4,000 to five people who’ve recently had car accidents. And how much overtime can responding to five such requests actually generate? Walsh writes:

Reconstruction reports, for example, require an officer with specialized training many hours to pull together things like accident reports, witness statements, tickets issued and electronic files of the measurements, photos and videos from a collision scene.

Why would it require “many hours” to pull together all the documents generated by a single accident? What kind of filing system do they use?

Walsh certainly didn’t mention records production when discussing his department’s $1.6 million overtime budget for 2021-22 — he said it took into account “major investigations, vacations, sickness [he said about 25 officers are currently off work] and training.”

In the end, the Police Commission voted to send the recommended fee structure increase to council where it could be considered at greater length, and potentially modified.

 

Exhibit custodian

Council approved a request to hire a full-time, civilian exhibits custodian for the Forensic Identification Unit at a salary of approximately $55,000 that will be offset by “efficiencies and anticipated retirement attrition” without “any increase to our overall operating budget.”

CBRM Police Commission Zoom Meeting, 7 March 2022

The Issue Paper in support of creating the position cites “a recent audit conducted by the Department of Justice” that “recommends a full-time Exhibit Custodian for consistency and efficiency concerning already limited police resources.”

I couldn’t find anything about this recent audit online — the only exhibits coverage I could find centered around the Halifax Police Department’s poor handling of Drug Exhibits — which is a separate issue. As Walsh’s paper explained to council, the Forensic Identification Unit handles exhibits related to “structure fires, fatal motor vehicle collisions, armed robberies and weapons offenses.” Walsh says the department “generated 226 files” in 2021.

 

Watch Command

Council also approved a switch (which is apparently actually a return) to a Watch Command system. It is, apparently, “part of a larger series of strategies and implementation plans that feed into an overarching framework for policing services to the CBRM, developed in accordance with recommendations within the Perivale + Taylor Operational Review of Police Services.”

A watch command system involves a “front-line, hands-on supervisor of operations and resources,” a type of oversight currently provided by “Managers rotating as an ‘on-call’ supervisor” who “take on these extra Watch Command duties off the sides of their desks and from their homes after-hours.”

I’m not familiar enough with police department organizational structures to evaluate this change, but will point out that it is being managed without asking for an increase in the operational budget. The new system requires the addition of two Staff Sergeant positions which will be “offset by the attrition of two Inspector positions.”

 

Divisional Reports

Having dealt with all the Issue Papers and voted to approve the overall 2022-23 CBRPS budget, council then heard divisional reports for the period from 1 November 2021 to 28 February 2022.

I don’t find these reports very helpful —  they show how many calls the police responded to during the given period and provide a rough idea of the type of calls, but they don’t tell you, for example, how many of the 22,151 calls received were for “assault with a weapon” as opposed to “mental health assistance” or “citizen complaints regarding speeding, dirt bikes and ATVs’, and loud mufflers.”

Source: https://www.cbrps.ca/polygraph-unit.html

Pseudo-science in the CBRM (Source: CBRPS website)

I did notice that the province’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act (SCAN) gets its own section. The CBRPS received “7 SCAN referrals” resulting in “1 Notice to Vacate-Eviction, 2 arrests.” The report notes there are currently three ongoing SCAN files.

The SCAN Act, introduced in Nova Scotia in 2006, is a piece of legislation that gives police the right to evict people from their homes if it can be shown they use those homes regularly for illegal activity. And here’s the really fun part: police do not have to prove their cases in court.

Many Canadian provinces have similar legislation, including Yukon, where the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to that province’s SCAN act, despite opposition from the government.

It will be very interesting to see how the court rules.

I also noted the report from the CBRPS Polygraph Unit, which just keeps chugging along, conducting nine polygraph examinations for the current period.

Last month, Halifax regional council voted to do away with polygraph tests as part of the screening process for police officers and people applying for HRP support positions. In doing so, it was following the recommendation of the Police Commission, which had heard presentations on the subject, including one by former MLA Lisa Roberts, during its February meeting.

In its report on that Police Commission meeting, the CBC noted that:

HRM human resource officials said concerns have been raised about the “results not being scientifically accurate.” Polygraphs are banned for use as a hiring tool in Ontario and New Brunswick.

According to the report each polygraph test costs between $300 and $600.

Polygraphs, although the results are not admissible as evidence in court and the technology has been pretty thoroughly debunked, will continue to be used by the HRP for criminal investigations.

And nobody seems to be worried about them here in CBRM.