Hamilton police presented the lowest budget increase in 14 years to city council on Thursday. But some councillors say they still wish it had been zero.

The budget to run the Hamilton Police Service in 2014 is 2.98 per cent more than it was last year, such a low number that some councillors breathed a sigh of relief.

But Coun. Judi Partridge still wants a zero-per cent increase.

Council has directed all the boards and agencies it funds to come in with zero per cent increases — and nearly all of them have, said Partridge, who represents Ward 15 in Flamborough.

'There isn’t a lot of fat on the bone.'- Coun. Terry Whitehead

“The police services has never come in close to zero — not anywhere close, no matter how you try to spin it,” she said.

The budget process was a bumpy ride in 2013, with council sending it back to the police board three times asking for reductions. The initial draft was more than a five-per cent increase over the year before. It was trimmed to a 3.52 per cent.

But during a budget session Thursday, councillors received the police budget with few complaints.

Budget process was better this year

This year’s process was “far more inclusive,” said Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4. “It was far more engaged. Last year, there was too much discussion about why things couldn’t occur as opposed to why things should be occurring.

“I think all the stakeholders have improved the process.”

Eighty-eight per cent of the Hamilton Police Service budget this year were salaries and benefits. To trim the budget much more, it would have meant laying off officers, said Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8, who sits on the police board.

'If you just do the raw math, we’re about 80 people in the organization short.'- Chief Glenn De Caire

“There isn’t a lot of fat on the bone,” he said. “In fact, there’s no fat on the bone.”

“I am wholeheartedly supporting this budget here today.”

The service hired 15 police officers at the end of 2013. The 2014 budget includes no new hires, Chief Glenn De Caire said in his presentation.

Still 60 officers short, chief says

According to a provincial benchmark, Hamilton is about 60 officers and 20 civilian staff members short, De Caire said.

The city has 1.53 officers per 1,000 people, the chief said.

“If you just do the raw math, we’re about 80 people in the organization short.”

Crime in Hamilton has decreased in several areas. In 2012, Hamilton saw the largest decrease in violent crime in the country. But the city also saw its highest number of homicides in 14 years in 2013. There have been three homicides so far in 2014.

De Caire said it’s not as easy as drawing a line between crime rates and the number of officers.

“The correlation of officers and crime rates going down is one that’s very problematic,” he said. “The issue of dealing with the perception of crime is very real.”

More youth facing drug charges

Here are some highlights from the 2014 budget:

  • The operating budget is $153.44 million, up $4.18 million from the year before. Of that amount, $144 million will be raised from taxes.
  • Salaries and benefits for officers and civilians have increased 3.14 per cent over the year before. They account for $135.4 million of the budget.
  • The cost of equipment, supplies and services increased marginally, while revenues went down.
  • The budget includes 15 new officers who were hired in 2013 and are now on the payroll. This budget anticipates hiring no new officers.

Officers are dealing with ever-changing types of crimes, De Caire said.

In Hamilton, they have dealt with an increase in elder abuse, and people abusing their power of attorney, he said. Also, in the last five years, there has been a nearly 100 per cent increase in drug charges against youth aged 12 to 17. 

Officers are also investigating an increasing amount of cyber crime.