Coun. Brad Clark says he has a lot of questions about Hamilton police’s use for force and the service’s budget before he’s willing to approve $1 million for more Tasers.

The Stoney Creek councillor will introduce a motion at city council Wednesday asking to see Hamilton Police Service’s (HPS) policies surrounding use of force and Tasers, particularly as they pertain to people with mental illnesses.

He also wants to see how much police have spent of this year’s budget so far to see if there’s room for HPS to pay for the weapons itself.

These are all questions that need to be answered before Clark is willing to vote on whether to give police $992,462 to start an expanded program for conductive energy weapons (CEW).

The program would involve training 579 more officers to use CEWs, and would require $635,433 each year to train officers.

“I just don’t think we should be in a position where we have to say yes or no to putting Tasers on the street as a matter of fact without understanding,” Clark said.  

Province authorized expanded use of conductive energy weapons

On Aug. 27, the province announced an authorization process for the use of CEWs. They are often referred to by the brand name Taser.

Hamilton police have carried Tasers since 2004, and 236 officers currently use them. Tasers were involved in 49 incidents in 2012, up from 22 the year before. Of those incidents, 17 involved people described as “emotionally disturbed/mentally ill” by police.

The expanded program includes $226,449 to hire two full-time training officers in permanent positions. If approved, the training would be completed by June 2014.

A former report from the police services board will come to council at a future meeting.

Clark’s motion asks for:

  • Copies of HPS policies regarding the use of non-lethal force with CEWs, batons, pepper spray, etc.
  • Copies of policies directing officers to use “de-escalation techniques” when apprehending suspects.
  • That the mayor write Premier Kathleen Wynne asking for copies of past funding agreements by the province regarding CEW purchase and training.
  • That council be given an update on the first six months of the police budget.

More questions from council

Clark wants to see if there’s any room in the budget to expand the Taser program. He wants the policies, he said, to understand the context in which they’re used.

“We need to have a discussion of how police are dealing with potentially mentally ill people,” he said.

When councillors face the idea of more Tasers, they will have plenty of questions, said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, a member of the police services board.

“Ultimately I suspect there will be two resolutions – one to ask the province to fund it and a second to refer the whole matter to 2014 budget deliberations,” he said.

As it stands, Clark doesn’t see how the city can afford it.

“A million dollars unbudgeted is a significant cost,” he said. “We’re already having real difficulties with infrastructure deficits and operating demands. This is one of those surprises no one anticipated.”