Despite a marked decrease in violent crime in the past year, Hamilton lags behind the provincial average in clearing those cases.

Members of the police board were told yesterday the clearance rate is a possible indication that the doesn't have enough officers to investigate the serious crimes.

That was the message  Monday when Hamilton Police Services staff updated members on the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative, which marks 15 cities on 43 aspects of policing.

Numbers from 2012 show that Hamilton saw the largest decrease in violent crime of any of the 15 cities. But it was among the lowest in clearing violent crime cases.

Policing by the numbers for 2012

202: Number of police officers per 100,000 residents

$290: Amount it costs to police the city, per person, per year

5,002: Total crime rate in Hamilton

1,039: Violent crimes in Hamilton

60 per cent: Number of violent crime cases cleared

There are a number of factors required to declare a case cleared, such as identifying suspects and making arrests, Chief Glenn De Caire told reporters after the presentation. The fact that Hamilton falls below the municipal median is cause for concern.

“We need to look at what we need to do as a police service to improve that clearance rate,” he said.

Figures show that in 2012, 60 per cent of violent crimes in Hamilton were cleared, compared to 91 per cent in Muskoka or 85 per cent in Sudbury. The reasons for that are complex, De Caire said.

It could be an indication that “there are not enough officers to do the required follow-up investigations when compared…to other police agencies,” Rita Lee, manager of the service’s corporate planning branch, said in the presentation.

The service is “very lean” when it comes to staffing, De Caire said.

“It’s an issue that the city police service has struggled with for many, many years.”

Violent crime in Hamilton dropped 23.2 per cent in 2012, the report shows. That puts Hamilton slightly above the median mark — lower than Thunder Bay and Windsor, and on par with London and Sudbury.

It showed Hamilton is below the median, in 10th place, in the number of officers per 100,000 people. It had 202 in 2012, and the same the year before. The city falls at about the median mark of $300 per person in the cost per capita category.

Coun. Terry Whitehead had a lot of questions about the figures — among them, whether Hamilton’s numbers would be different if it didn’t have a mounted unit.

De Caire said it’s difficult to compare municipalities, which have differing populations, geography and other factors.

During the meeting, members gave pre-budget approval to spend $1.3 million on 19 new sedan cruisers, 14 used plain-door vehicles, four full-size vans, four police motorcycles and a set of replacement outboard engines for the marine vessel.

De Caire expects to present a draft 2014 budget to the police services board next month, possibly at the board meeting on Dec. 16.

Last year’s budget was contentious, with De Caire’s staff trimming it three times to meet city council’s demand to keep costs low. The ordeal also resulted in the city asking the province for more control over the service, which is currently governed by the arm's-length board.