After 6 months’ training at police academy, Halifax cops entitled to use a gun, a taser, a baton and pepper spray

What is the 2.3% or $2 million added onto $89 million exactly for? Well Halifax Police Chief Kinsella wants to hire 26 more cops, a handful of dispatchers, and a few more staff.

A source close to the police has reported that more than 140 Halifax Regional Police (HRP) officers are off duty, due to sickness, injury or stress. Some may be off because they refuse to be vaccinated against Covid. That’s alarming! 140 represents 26.3% of “sworn” officers – more than a quarter of the cops aren’t at work today, or any day this month. Some cops are working overtime for 10 days straight; others are serving on shifts without the minimal number of staff necessary.

“We are in a crisis,” complained Chief Kinsella, “We are in dire straits.”

But he never said exactly why more than a quarter of his force are not working. I suppose that is too much to ask. According to sources in the police, Kinsella will talk to no one – officers, or civilians about what is going on. He relies on only his closest confidants.

Halifax’s $91 million police budget

Is $91 million too much to pay for our police? Councillor Becky Kent insists that Halifax still needs a “healthy police department”—whatever that means. But others think differently.

Whatever happened to the demand to defund the police? By that I mean reducing reliance on police for intervening in services like mental health checks, keeping our streets safe, dealing with at-risk teens, and community emergency measures.

About money for the police: at a time we should at least be considering unloading some police responsibilities such as “wellness checks”, the police chief has again asked for an increase in his budget.

On the bright side, despite the demand for an increase for the police budget there are some savings! The police are quick to point out that they didn’t roll out body cameras, as they said they would, in January 2021— that money won’t be done for another year. Ka-ching.

The media note that in June 2020, HRM Council put a stop to the purchase of the “armoured rescue vehicle” – a tank for police to use at demonstrations and public gatherings. In spite of some councillors’ reluctance to spend nearly half a million dollars on the tank, Chief Kinsella maintained it was a good buy and that the tank it was not “aggressive equipment” and had that “no weaponry” on board.

That was a saving of $400,000 — less than 0.5 per cent of the budget! What happened to that money? It turns out $53,500 was redirected to HRM’s office of diversity and inclusion; $36,000 went to the office of public safety , and $300,000 was used to fight “anti-Black racism.” What! – how’s that?

What exactly have the Halifax Regional Police been doing to fight “anti-Black racism” since 2020?

Well not a whole lot. Monday, for example, nearly 100 people demonstrated in front of the Best Western Hotel in Burnside. They were protesting the false arrest, detention and terrorizing of Black Dartmouth resident Kayla Borden. Borden was driving her car in Dartmouth in July 2020, when she was stopped by five police vehicles, and at least that many cops. They arrested her, handcuffed her, harassed her, threatened her. It was night so she couldn’t see if any had their guns drawn. The cops told her they were searching for a white man in a baseball cap driving a dark-coloured Toyota. Borden is Black and drives a silver Dodge Avenger. She wasn’t wearing a ball cap. Clearly she wasn’t the bad guy. Then they “un-arrested” her and told her to go. Her complaint to Halifax Regional Police (HRP) went nowhere, which was to be expected since the police investigate themselves.

Above: Kayla Borden (credit: Youtube, Hannah Butler); cartoon stock image of police equipment; photo of three supporters at the rally for Kayla at her complaints hearing Monday (credit: Judy Haiven).

Like so many other Black victims of police violence, stop checks and profiling, Kayla Borden was told that she was simply “at the wrong place at the wrong time”. Why is it that Black people seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time way more than white people? Borden and her supporters say that explanation isn’t good enough. On Monday Borden’s appeal began, a five day hearing – plus two more days in January, before three adjudicators from the NS Police Review Board.

I attended the hearing Tuesday and listened to the testimony of two of the white male cops at the scene, Cst Andrew Nicholson and Cst Jeff Pulsifer. Each decided to join the Halifax police, and were welcomed on board after they took a six-month police training program at the Atlantic Police Academy in Charlottetown. After that, each did a three-month assignment as a cadet when teamed with a Halifax cop.

“Diversity was a component in the class in 2011… there were hundreds of presentations.” But Cst Nicholson could not remember one.

HRP Cst Andrew Nicholson about his police training at the Atlantic Police Academy

When asked about the specifics of police training, each couched his response with “it was a long time ago.” For Nicholson it was 2011, and for Pulsifer it was 2008. Each said he couldn’t remember much except the Academy was was mainly a classroom setting. When Devin Maxwell, Borden’s lawyer, asked Cst Nicholson if, in his training, he learned about leadership– Cst Nicholson replied, “Nothing specific… [it was] not taught in a specific way.”

Then Maxwell asked him if there was a particular class about equality, gender and racism. Nicholson answered, “Diversity was a component of the class in 2011. For six months there were four main subjects, use of force, psychology, law and I can’t remember the fourth. There were hundreds of presentations.”

Unfortunately, Nicholson could not remember even one of them.

Nicholson, who has been a Halifax constable for ten years, also testified that his employer provided annual “block training”. Did that include diversity training? He said, “Every year year we have two-day long block training: classroom training for two days a year [which includes] re-certifying firearms, tasers, batons, and spray. We’re taught about when to use force and how to use the tools.” He had heard that there was equity training, but he never took it.

Cst Pulsifer gave much the same evidence. In response to most of the questions, he replied he couldn’t recall. Maxwell called Pulsifer an “adverse” witness rather than a “hostile” one. One of the last questions Maxwell put to Pulsifer was “have you witnessed any instances of racial bias in your career?”

Pulsifer answered, “Not that I can recall.”

My observation: to Black people, it’s always about race; but to the cops it’s NEVER about race.

The police didn’t read Kayla Borden her rights

Yet these are two of the policemen who took down Kayla Borden. These two men, and others, surrounded a young unarmed Black woman in the middle of the night, handcuffed her, detained her and terrorized her.

They didn’t ask her anything, they claimed she evaded them (untrue) and drove without her lights on (untrue). They didn’t read her a caution or tell her her rights – something Devin Maxwell pointed out was in violation of police rules.  

It was only when one of the cops checked her license plate against the one they were looking for – after she was in handcuffs – that the police said they “unarrested” her, and let her go.  It was just “a mistake” said one cop.  As El Jones wrote in the Halifax Examiner, “one of the officers in notes from the scene wrote, ‘that was an epic failure.’

It was only when one of the cops checked her license plate against the one they were looking for – after she was in handcuffs – that the police said she was “unarrested”, and let her go. It was just “a mistake” said one cop.

Of course what happened to Kayla Borden was not a one-off.

In the summer of 2021, police did a takedown of a 20-year veteran and highest-ranking Black officer of the HRP, Superintendent Dean Simmonds, and his wife Angela Simmonds, a lawyer and now a sitting MLA, also African-Nova Scotian. It was at gunpoint that the Simmonds’ were stopped by the RCMP as they were on their way home to North Preston around lunchtime in early July. The police pointed C8 Carbine rifle at the couple.

C8 Carbine rifle made by Colt Canada, photo credit Warrior Publications

The cops say they were looking for a “high risk” suspect in a shooting. The suspect’s SUV had out of province plates, which was clearly not the case with the Simmonds’ vehicle. Of course this was the RCMP which is supposed to be the best trained and an elite police force. Of course as recently as three months ago, the RCMP still refused to apologize to the Black community for excessive street checks. At the same time, the RCMP also continues to share policing of Halifax Regional Municipality with the HRP. One wonders if HRP forked over some of their $300,000 for training against “anti-Black racism” to the RCMP.

Anecdotal evidence is that the police are still stopping Black people, despite the prohibition against doing so. According to an article by Caora McKenna in The Coast, it is now more than 32 months since the Wortley report was published, and 18 months since University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley noted,

“What is the evidence that the number of unnecessary police interactions with members of the African Nova Scotia community have been reduced? WHat is the evidence that race relations have improved? What is the evidence that other recommendations are being treated seriously and considered?”

Since that time there is next to no public information about the progress of three recommendations from the Wortley report. The recommendations call for the police to be “mandated to collect and disseminate information on the personal characteristics—including racial background—of all civilians subject to police stops and other investigative detentions.” Another recommendation was for the police to “establish a permanent data collection system to record information on all stops of civilians” including traffic stops and pedestrian stops.

There is still no system for uniform race-based data collection. And without that there is no means for the public to have confidence that the police are doing a better job, according to journalist Caora McKenna.

So here we are: after the Wortley report, after the protests, after demands for the compilation of race-based data.

The police culture, their bullying, their secrecy and their cynical disregard in their ranks of racism against Black and marginalized citizens show no signs of disappearing.

One last thing — leadership in a command and control outfit like the police comes from the top. Exactly what kind of leadership does Chief Kinsella provide? Well you will hear from him yourself. Though lawyers for the police objected to his being called to testify, he is slated to testify at the NS Police Review Board on Thursday.

Featured Image: Photo by Pedro Domingos in Ottawa Life Magazine article, ” ‘Defund the Police’ is a call for reform.”

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