Police officers have stepped forward and offered to pay for Hamilton’s new conductive energy weapons program themselves. That means it won’t cost taxpayers anything for the first year, says police chief Glenn De Caire.
Two associations representing Hamilton officers have offered a pot of money from the late 1990s to implement an expanded program for CEWs, often known by the brand name Taser.
The program would see 519 Hamilton Police Service officers trained on CEWs, and would expand the arsenal from 66 to 150 weapons. Original estimates pinned implementation costs at about $1 million.
But the Hamilton Police Association and the Hamilton Police Senior Officers Association have offered up $468,000 from a pension overflow fund dating back to 1996. The service will also phase in the program over three years. So that money will be enough to pay for the first year of the new program, De Caire said after a public meeting Tuesday.
“We’re continuing to look for efficiencies in our business process,” De Caire said.
The police services board will vote on Dec. 16 whether to implement the new program. But the new information about cost will help, said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, vice-chair of the police services board.
Ferguson still has a lot of questions, such as why the money wasn’t offered up earlier. And the annual cost to operate the program is still a question mark. Initial reports give an estimate of $635,443 per year to maintain the program, including $226,449 for two full-time training officers and about $100,000 for cartridges.
But “at the end of the day, we’re going to be able to implement this with no impact to the levy for taxpayers,” Ferguson said.
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Citizens gave their opinions on the proposed CEW program at Tuesday's public meeting. The 15 speakers included the presidents of the two police associations and Sharon Dorr. She’s the fiancée of Steve Mesic, a Hamilton man shot and killed by police officers earlier this year.
Like other speakers, Dorr advocated for lapel cameras for officers. Her father, Norm Dorr, said video cameras would solve the mystery of what happens during police standoffs with civilians.
His family still doesn’t know what happened with Mesic, he said. With lapel cams, “at least we would know the truth.”
“I’ve said many times, we’ve got three witnesses to the shooting,” he said. “One is dead and the other two are cops.”
Hamilton police have used CEWs since 2004. They were involved in 49 incidents in Hamilton in 2012, up from 22 the year before. Of those incidents, 17 involved people who were described as “emotionally disturbed/mentally ill” by police.
Earlier this year, the province released relaxed guidelines around CEW usage. On Nov. 7, Toronto’s police services board voted against an expanded CEW program.
Tuesday's meeting was sparsely attended, with about 25 people in the audience.