Hamilton has more reported crime than the average Ontario city — about 800 more cases, according to a new report.
It also has fewer officers, who have larger caseloads, and solve 16 per cent fewer crimes than in other cities in Ontario.
The annual Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative compares a number of services in 14 cities and regions, including Toronto, Waterloo, Muskoka and Thunder Bay. Policing was one of them.
CBC Hamilton took the report's finding to police chief Glenn De Caire, who was appointed to his position three years ago. De Caire said the police force is doing a phenomenal job, but still has challenges.
What is the state of police services in Hamilton? How well are our officers doing?
Our officers are doing a phenomenal job. We have to keep this in context of what we do, because most people don't see the magnitude of our order of business, a lot of work every single day goes unseen.
Today in the city about 600 911 calls will come through the communication centre and we will activate the emergency response — Fire, EMS or Police, it all comes through here.
We do about 35,000 criminal occurrences a year. We get about 80,000 calls for service. . . . We come in contact with over 300,000 people. Getting the information out is what we're trying to do, but most people don't really understand the volume.
Our enforcement is up about 36 per cent over the past thee years. Collisions in the city went from 10,500 to I expect this year to be somewhere around 9,200.
Our people are doing incredible, not just on the enforcement front but the prevention and education front. We work with young people, in the school. The more money we spend here, the less on the judicial system.
Based on those numbers, I can image officers are quite busy here. One of the statistic shows Hamilton has fewer officers (202) per 100,000 residents — about 20 fewer officers — than the other the other municipalities and they deal with more cases per officers. Are they too busy?
The service has taken a strategic approach in how we gauge the amount of work, the quantity of work, the quality of work and what our officers should be doing. Sixty per cent of the time [officers are] in reactive mode, responding to calls. Forty per cent in proactive mode, going out on community patrol and going into schools.
Our people are very busy. They do carry a significant number of cases.
In the OMBI stats, in cases carried per officer for traffic, we are the second highest of the 14 reporting regions. So that tells me each of our officers is out there, they are contributing. They are laying charges. They are doing prevention work.
For the number of non-traffic related crimes reported, Hamilton is almost a thousand cases over the average (5,304 vs. 4,670). What's going on here to explain that?
Hamilton is a very difficult city. We have the size of the city, the second largest of the 14 [municipalities]. Twelve hundred square kilometres, that causes issues in itself in the amount of geography that we have to patrol. It takes time just to get to calls.
One of the things we have been working on is encouraging people to report. Sometimes people think it's just a small something and I'm not going to bother the police. Call us. You never know what piece of information will help us solve the case.
We're working on reporting, particularly around sexual assault and protection of women and children with domestic violence and we also know sexual assault is a significantly under reported crime.
Would you say we are seeing these numbers because there is more reporting or because we have a higher rate of crime?
It's probably a combination of both. There is crime that is not being reported but we're making every effort to have people bring that forward.
Sometimes we get stuck in the numbers [when we look at reports]. Let's remember what the number say to us. In our city, 7,000 people are a victim of a violent crime every year. That's not ok for me. . . . That's why we have to be out there doing prevention and education, but also doing reporting.
We also have a higher number in the index of severity of crime as well (93 vs. 69).
A big part of the crime severity index is what our officers are doing to investigate crime. But a big piece of that is what our courts are doing because for the index part of the weight is the conviction and the sentence issued. Our courts are taking serious issues seriously.
As an example, our position, when asked [by the Crown attorney], in relation to hate crime is jail time, every time. We have seen some significant sentences on hate crime. We had an incident that took place last year where a conviction was registered. The two people found guilty both received jail sentences of six and nine months.
That being said, in terms of solving these crimes, Hamilton is lower. Sixty per cent of crimes are solved annually versus a 76 per cent average. So, there is also violent crime that's not going to the court system.
One of the areas that is a challenge for us is staffing and having investigative staff that can take the report from the officers on the front lines. We have to have sufficient people to work on clearances.
The other point is there is different classification and coding for clearances. We stick to what the requirements from Stats Canada are and we don't vary. We want to make sure we're complying with that federal legislation.
What are your goals for overcoming some of challenges you've talked about?
Let's look at where we are as a city. We brought Canada Bread in. We have the Pan Am games coming up. We have residential development. We have the Stats Can report showing our population has increased by about 16,000. Those are all positive things.
What we need to do is to make sure we can provide the same kind of service tomorrow to the increased demand that is presenting itself. We need to be able to make sure we can continue to be as safe tomorrow as we are today.
This is a safe city. We need to continue to focus on crime prevention and education with young people. One of the challenges we always need to work on is protecting women and children regarding domestic violence and sexual assault.
We also need to build our own infrastructure within the service being as efficient as we can with the work that is required because we do recognize that policing is an expensive service.