Councillors leery of police budget hike request

Hamilton police chief Chief Glenn De Caire pitched councillors on a controversial 3.71 per cent — or $5,034,830 — budget increase for his force Thursday. Most councillors seemed to want a further reduction.
Chief Glenn De Caire delivering a proposed police budget increase of 3.71 per cent to council's general issues committee on Thursday afternoon. Councillors voted to table the request until a further meeting. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire made the case for a 3.71 per cent police budget increase at city hall Thursday afternoon — but councillors voted to table the request until a further meeting.

After a seven-hour long marathon session at council, some councillors said they needed more time to pour over the budget request in an "offline setting." A date to address the issue further at council was not established.

"We're on information overload. I want to digest what I've heard," said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson.

A sticking point for much of council was a firm answer on what a "maintenance budget" for police would look like. A maintenance budget would allow police to keep the same level of service from 2012, but not add any additional services.

As outlined in the Ontario Police Services Act, council can either adopt the police budget as a whole or reject it outright. They have no authority to manage individual expenditures.

If council rejects the budget request, it would likely be determined through arbitration.

What had been a budget increase of $5,290,700 was reduced to $5,034,830 after the police services board approved it Tuesday afternoon. The reduction stems from a change in the training scheduled for half of the 20 new officers Hamilton Police Service plans to hire this year, which is money that will have to be paid next year.

After the meeting, De Caire told reporters that a 3.62 per cent budget increase would allow the police to meet "collective bargaining pressures" but not "address any additional service measures," like hiring new officers.

"This is collective bargaining which is associated to the salaries and benefits only," De Caire said, adding that there is "an incredible need" for an increased level of service because of a rise in crimes like fraud and child abuse that the force needs more officers to address.

Frontline visibility

A report presented to the police services board Tuesday shows decreases in most major types of crime in Hamilton. Using a five-year average, the report shows fewer homicides, robberies, assaults, break-and-enters and thefts, as well as decreases in other major areas.

De Caire's presentation at council outlined other areas in which issues grew from 2009-2011:

  • Sexual assaults increased by 103 cases or 29 per cent
  • Assaults increased by 564 cases or 17 per cent
  • Violent crime increased by 586 cases or 14 per cent
  • And in 2012, child abuse incidents increased by 258, or 53 per cent

Though violent crime levels in Hamilton have dipped, De Caire says, the city still has the second highest incidence of violent crime of Ontario's biggest cities.

"We need to be doing more," De Caire said, adding that more officers, "highly visible on the front line," is necessary to support the level of service delivery needed in Hamilton.

Considering the taxpayer

"Council has supported this unit in the past with appropriate levels of funding," De Caire said while in front of council. But several councillors bemoaned the budget hike request.

Councillors Bernie Morelli, Sam Merulla and Scott Duvall said though they had previously supported Hamilton police budgets, they couldn't do so this year.

"For the first time in 13 years, I can't support a police budget," Merulla said.

"The taxpayers are rebelling. They're saying no more," Duvall added.

Many councillors mentioned during the meeting that most city departments have been able to come back with zero per cent increases as dictated by council — but Mayor Bob Bratina said the comparison with the police service wasn't a fair one.

"So much policing deals with the most vulnerable in our city," Bratina said. "How can you as a police chief, respond to the same challenge as someone who cuts lawns?"

"I would hate to see the marginalized have to see less than adequate policing because of percentage points on a budget."

Running at 'maximum efficiency"

De Caire says police have analyzed Statistics Canada data, Ontario Municipal Board data, conducted a  five-year workload analysis for the service and more — and says the budget increase is necessary to provide adequate policing for the city.

"The Hamilton police service has maximized our efficiency," he said. "At 3.71 per cent this is very reasonable, fiscally responsible and prudent budget."

The Ontario Police College has cancelled a May session when 10 officers of a proposed 20 new hires for the Hamilton Police Service would have been trained. Instead, they'll all be trained later that year. That means the deferral of paying $1.12 million is money that will have to be found in the 2014 budget.

Chief De Caire has characterized the movement of training for the new hires as a deferral rather than savings and cautioned that the move, along with using reserve funds, is not a long term solution for budget woes.

"This is not a sustainable measure." De Caire said. "We can't come back next year using reserves. The reserves are not what I'd determine as healthy."

As it stands, $450,000 of the proposed 2013 budget would come out of the Police capital reserve fund, which would leave the fund at just under $1 million.

De Caire says police are "always concerned" about simply pushing current budget pressures onto next year's budget.

"Lets not forget that the reason these decisions were made now is because this is what we are facing as a service in delivering policing to the community," De Caire said.

"So any of the benefits that would be realized by those officers coming into the service this year, they also will be deferred. So any of the services they would provide, we won't see until next year."

With files from Samantha Craggs