City councillors are balking at the idea of paying nearly $1 million for more Tasers for Hamilton police, asking the province to pay for them instead.

Councillors voted down a request from Chief Glenn De Caire at Wednesday’s general issues committee for $992,462 to purchase more Tasers and train 519 front-line Hamilton police officers to use them.

Instead, the city will ask the province to pay for all of it, since it was the province that released relaxed regulations regarding Taser usage earlier this year.

'If we don’t get the money, it’s not a go because we just don’t have it ourselves.'- Coun. Lloyd Ferguson

“We need to just stop this right now until we go to the province and say, ‘This is your initiative. We need your money. If we don’t get the money, it’s not a go because we just don’t have it ourselves,’” said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster.

“It’s important that we don’t kid ourselves. We don’t have a million dollars.”

Hamilton Police Service has been using conductive energy weapons (CEWs), otherwise known as Tasers, since 2004.

Hamilton police has trained 236 front-line officers. The service proposes spending $992,462 to train more, as well as purchase 150 more CEWs to add to the arsenal of 66. It will also cost $635,443 per year to maintain the program. This includes $226,449 for two full-time training officers and about $100,000 for cartridges.

In addition to the money, De Caire asked councillors to do public consultation in their wards to gauge public opinion. Coun. Brad Clark said this was an odd move.

Consulting for police?

“How can we conduct public consultation on a tool we’ve never used, never purchased, seen no ministry guidelines on…we’ve seen nothing,” he said.

“For the first time in the history of the city we’re being asked to do consultation on behalf of the police department.”

If the police service wanted, said city solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski, it could simply add the expanded program to its budget next year. Council approves the police budget as a whole but can't dissect it item by item.

But the service wants council's input, and for councillors to do public consultation "as representatives of the people," Deputy Chief Ken Leenderste said.

In the end, the committee decision did not address the matter of public consultation.

The budget estimates are based on standards the province hasn't formally released yet, Leenderste said. Hamilton police estimate, based on recommendations from a provincial CEW advisory board, that Ontario will recommend that an officer new to Tasers receive 12 hours of training. 

Tasers were involved in 49 incidents in Hamilton in 2012, up from 22 the year before. Of those incidents, 17 involved people described as “emotionally disturbed/mentally ill” by police.