Rising price of policing threatens Hamilton's festivals, organizers say

Volunteers for various festivals in Hamilton say the price of paid-duty police has become completely unmanageable.

Festival volunteers say the price of paid-duty police has become completely unmanageable

Organizers say policing costs for the Locke Street Festival have gotten so high that they will have to scale down the festival in 2013. (Courtesy 2020 Studios)

Rising paid duty policing costs at Hamilton's festivals and special events are doing more than just dampening the fun, festival organizers say — they could topple some events completely.

Stoney Creek Santa Claus Parade Chairman Robert Naylor is fuming over what he calls an unprecedented spike in costs from last year's parade.

"It was the first time we had to pay for police, and it cost us $6,700," Naylor said. "It's absurd."

Couple that with the fact that the parade was also dinged by the city $4,800 for roadblocks, he says, and you have a situation that's akin to a "kick in the teeth."

"We don't get paid to do this," he said. "The public gives us donations and we try to help them enjoy themselves. It [policing] is our tax dollars and it should be used to enjoy the Christmas season."

The fast-growing Locke Street festival is having trouble affording paid duty police too, says festival organizer Brandon Stanicak.

'It's going to kill events.'—Coun. Jason Farr

Last years' festival only required two paid duty officers — but it was a hit, and the street was packed all day despite some bad weather early on.

In fact, the festival did so well that police and the liquor inspector shut things down early because of an over-capacity beer garden. This year, police have instructed organizers they need to hire 12 officers instead of two, Stanicak says.

"None of us could afford that," he said. "Working that into the budget would be too hard. We'd end up spending more for police than we would on bands."

So this year for the first time, the festival will be scaling down, he says. Music and entertainment will be downsized, and policing costs are a contributing factor.

'We have to run this city'

Police Superintendent Ken Bond told CBC Hamilton there has been a rise in paid duty policing costs in the city, but not without reason.

"Rates have increased because of pay raises," he said, adding that this is province-wide, not solely a Hamilton issue.

"And remember — we have to run this city, and these events are over and above what we do."

Bond was also quick to point out that the cost per hour for Hamilton officers is amongst the lowest in the surrounding area. The cost per nearby region is laid out in this table:

Police serviceRates
HamiltonConstable - $61.58/hr; Sergeant - $71.43/hr;+ 15% admin. fee; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
TorontoConstable - $65/hr; Sergeant - $73.50/hr; + 15% admin. fee; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
Halton RegionConstable - $84.49/hr; Sergeant - $95.62/hr; includes 15% admin. fee and 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
Niagara RegionConstable - $78.50/hr; Sergeant - $88.25/hr; includes 20% admin. fee; + 13% HST; minimum four (4) hours
Peel RegionConstable - $67/hr; Sergeant - $76/hr; + 15% admin. fee, 1.95% Employers Health Tax and 0.39% WSIB fee; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
BrantfordConstable - 11⁄2 times regular hourly rate + 15% admin. fee; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
Chatham-KentConstable - $65/hr + 13% HST; minimum four (4) hours
GuelphConstable - $71/hr; Supervisor - $79/hr; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours
LondonConstable - $61.47/hr; Sergeant - $69.77/hr; + 10% admin. fee; + 13% HST; minimum three (3) hours

–Source: City of Hamilton Planning and Economic Development Department

While Hamilton Police are amongst the cheapest paid duty officers to hire, spokesperson Const. Debbie McGreal told CBC Hamilton that police do dictate how many officers need to be hired for any given event.

"Police would decide how many officers are required for the events," she said, adding that if an event were to grow, then police would have to "revisit the controls."

Bond says that if police have had an issue with an event the previous year, they will beef up paid duty officers in the name of public safety. That was the case with the Locke Street Festival.

"That's just the reality of the situation," he said. "In these economic times, the scrutiny for all these events has ramped up."

Meeting a need

That's the reason security was increased at last year's Festival of Friends too, he says. In 2011, traffic heading to the Ancaster Fairgrounds ended up brutally snarled because a horde of people came out to see The Sheepdogs and Dallas Green, and police and organizers weren't adequately prepared.

Bond says police had issues with "kids brawling and fighting" inside the gates, too.

In contrast, the 2012 Festival of Friends was a very waterlogged affair and for the most part crowds were scarce. Nevertheless, organizer Loren Lieberman says his festival saw a 700 per cent increase in contracted fees from the police for this season — which amounts to a $40,000 police bill.

So last month Lieberman asked city council that the police bill be transferred to the city so the festival can remain viable — in 2012 it lost almost $81,000. Lieberman asked council to assign the police contract "to the appropriate department within the city of Hamilton."

Lieberman says the policing bill is unmanageable for a volunteer group.

"It's just too small an organization, and we don't have any fat to cut," he said.

Unaffordable paid duty policing is an issue some city councillors say they're hearing more and more from their constituents. So at that Jan. 25 council meeting, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson tabled a motion that the issue be moved to the grants committee so a "citywide resolution" could be found.

More to come

Volunteer event co-ordinators aren't the only ones feeling the sting of paid duty police costs.

Check CBC Hamilton on Tuesday for an in-depth look at how paid duty costs are being charged in Hess Village, where some bar owners are spending more in police fees than they are paying in municipal taxes.

"I do see some trends here," Ferguson told CBC Hamilton. "We need to follow up on this and hear from the police as to what's going on."

Coun. Jason Farr says policing costs for volunteer groups have become "unbearable."

"They've been trying to mitigate these costs, yet they keep expanding," Farr said. "It's going to kill events."

"We're going to see premiere events that are huge economic draws drop off one by one."

Even Supercrawl isn't immune to the budget squeeze. Organizer Tim Potocic told CBC Hamilton that paid duty police have been a major issue for his organization, as well.

"It was 15 per cent of our entire budget in 2012 and 2011," Potocic said in an email. "If the policing costs were covered by the city 100 per cent, then theoretically I could have more dollars for programming and be able to add more unique elements to the event."

But Potocic says he also understands that policing is a "vital service" for his event, and that Supercrawl has grown year after year in attendance and scope — so the policing costs were sure to increase year over year, too.

He says that one day, he hopes policing costs for Supercrawl can be totally covered by the city.

"If the city could work into their budget with police an ability to eliminate the policing costs for events through internal budgeting — I would be thrilled," Potocic said.

But for now, he says he feels like it's out of his hands and that he's unable do anything about it.

"Two massive bureaucracies [the police and city] need to work through it for the little guy."