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Are police pushing crime into certain areas of Hamilton?

Other areas of Hamilton have seen a decrease in crime, says Matthew Green. But Ward 3 hasn't, and he wonders why.

One councillor says the lower city should benefit from the same decline of crime as other areas

This heat map shows the prevalence of violent crime in the city. Coun. Matthew Green says crime seems to be decreasing in other areas, but not in his Ward 3, and he wonders why. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Crime is decreasing in most of Hamilton but getting more dense in the central lower city, says one city councillor. And he can't help but wonder if maybe that's on purpose.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, asked Hamilton's acting police chief on Wednesday if there was a conscious effort to be more lax on crime in his area, or as some residents have speculated, intentional policies pushing more of it into their neighbourhoods. 

The acting chief, Eric Girt, told Green there wasn't. But Green said he can't help but feel like that's the case sometimes.

If they've had success in certain areas of the Mountain and in the suburbs, why couldn't those same successes be applied to Ward 3?- Coun. Matthew Green

Nearly every other area of Hamilton is seeing a decrease in crime, Green said afterward. Efforts such as the ACTION team have cracked down on crime in downtown Hamilton.

But it seems to be pushing more incidents into his area, he said. He wondered if police have a "containment" policy where they accept certain crimes, such as sex work, on areas such as Barton Street as long as it doesn't spread to other neighbourhoods.

"It's a question," Green said. "Maybe the answer is no, but it's a question — is the density of crime related to conscious decisions or policies?"

Green floated the questions during a city committee budget meeting on Wednesday, when Girt presented a budget 2.79 per cent larger than last year's. It's higher than one per cent, which the city has requested from its other boards and agencies. But it's the lowest increase the police service has fielded in 17 years.

The police budget represents about 20 per cent of the city's total budget.

Girt presented a range of heat maps that show crime decreasing around the city, but the central lower city remained a solid red — in other words, an area of high crime.

Girt denied that there was, as Green phrased it, a "policy of containment."

"It has to do with a whole dynamic range of factors," he said of crime in the lower city. Hamilton Police Services patrol the area the same as it does any other, where you "go to the high-needs neighbourhoods and you determine what the issues are."

But afterward, Green still wondered. He acknowledges that his area is heavily impacted by poverty, lack of affordable housing, gentrification and other factors — that it's "a very complex conversation."

Even with those factors, though, Green wonders why crime in his ward isn't at least trending downward like nearly everywhere else.

"You would think there would be a consistency," he said.

"If they've had success in certain areas of the Mountain and in the suburbs, why couldn't those same successes be applied to Ward 3?"

Crime — inclduding violent crime —has been trending downward in Hamilton year over year. In 2012, for example, there were 5,002 incidents of crime in Hamilton, compared to 4,409 in 2013 and 4,122 in 2014.

Violent crime, meanwhile, increased slightly in Hamilton in 2014 after years of double-digit decreases. In 2014, there were 915 cases compared to 899 in 2013 and 1,039 in 2012.

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