If Hamilton police do not get a $7.1-million budget increase, the Mountain and east-end stations will close after hours and 20 positions will be eliminated, says Chief Glenn De Caire.

De Caire defended a 5.25 per cent increase to its 2013 budget before the police services board Tuesday evening.

If Hamilton Police Service doesn't get the increase, it will remove five school resources officers, four station duty personnel, nine crime managers and half the positions on a team that accompanies social workers on mental health calls.

It will also restrict operations at the 2825 King St. E. and 400 Rymal Rd. E. stations to business hours. People who arrive after hours will connect to police communications by phone.

It's a necessary move given the financial restraints police are under, De Caire said after the meeting.

Without the increase, "the work that is getting done by those people will have to be distributed elsewhere because we cannot continue to sustain that," he said.

The budget asks for 21 new positions at Hamilton Police Service, or 20 news officers and one new civilian staff member.

Crime in Hamilton continues to decrease and arrest rates increase through the good work done by the service, De Caire said. But maintaining that means investing in the new hires.

A hard sell

Board members had plenty of questions about the proposed increase. Coun. Terry Whitehead said the city wants departments to keep budgets in line, but it's a hard sell when police want a $7.1-million increase.

Increasing police budgets make it hard for municipalities to deliver services, he said.

"It's lowering the ability to deliver all the other services taxpayers are relying on," he said.

With the police services budget, "I don't think we've come in below the cost of inflation — ever."

Whitehead said constituents have called him since news broke about the budget increase.

Paid suspensions

"I understand the pressures and I understand the need to ensure we don't create a community that's not worth investing in," he said. "I understand the balance that needs to be struck. The question is coming in with 20 officers at this time, is that striking the right balance?"

Board member Irene Stayshyn has gotten similar phone calls. People want to know why more officers are necessary when crime is going down, she said. Some bring up the pricey paid suspensions of officers being investigated for infractions.

"Those are normally questions easily asked by those who have neither the responsibility nor accountability of maintaining public safety," De Caire responded.

No number of victims is OK, he said. And he would also like to see legislation that gives suspended officers paid leave amended.

"The position of our service is the legislation should be open to provide chiefs the authority to make a discretionary decision and then build in a process for officers to appeal."

What comes next

About 80 per cent of the increase is salaries and benefits. The increase would bring the total police budget to $143 million, up from $135,641,540 last year.

The board will discuss the budget at an upcoming meeting. De Caire will also make a similar presentation to city council on Jan. 24.

If council rejects the budget, it goes back to the board which can decide whether to appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. If the board appeals, arguments are presented and the commission rules.

That process would likely take "a matter of months," De Caire said. But he'll have a decision to make sooner than that.

"The decision that will have to be made is on Jan. 1 — what do we do?" he said. "At this point, with this budget not being approved, our position is those 20 job functions will cease to exist within our service."