Hamilton asks province for control of its police service

It was far from unanimous, but Hamilton city council will ask the province to give it more control over Hamilton Police Service.
Hamilton city council will ask the province for greater control of the local police service.

After a tense debate that divided city council, Hamilton councillors have narrowly voted to ask the province for control of the Hamilton Police Service.

Councillors voted 8-6 Wednesday to ask the province to allow the city to control the police services board, or for council to govern the service directly.

Coun. Sam Merulla introduced the motion, saying costs keep increasing and the city can't control it. The city should either have total control of the service or be completely hands-off, such as the way school boards are operated.

"Let's be held accountable and have input or let's just call it a day," the Ward 4 councillor said.

The Hamilton Police Service board is comprised of three provincial appointees, three city appointees and the mayor. The board sets the budget and oversees Chief Glenn De Caire and his staff.

Coun. Sam Merulla says the city should have more control over its police service.

The city and board butted heads earlier this year when council disputed a budget increase. Coun. Terry Whitehead was also recently suspended from the board during an investigation by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission. Council voted Wednesday night to appoint Coun. Lloyd Ferguson to his place on an interim basis.

But Merulla said his motion was independent of recent issues. The issue is part of a greater problem of provincial downloading, where the city issues tax bills but has little say over one-fifth of the amount.

Some who voted against the motion said they didn't feel they had the expertise to run a police service.

"I don't have the expertise to tell the police chief if the ACTION team is working or not," said Brad Clark of Ward 9 in Stoney Creek. "I don't have the experience to tell the chief if the homicide team is working well. I look at the numbers and I ask questions."

The city should not turn "an argument with the chief" into a reason to involve the province, Clark said.

'For God's sake, work it out'

"I would strongly suggest that it's probably appropriate that bodies having personality issues sit down over coffee and for God's sake, work it out," he said.

"It's a professional council, professional police services board and enough is enough."

Merulla's motion will be forwarded to De Caire and the board, as well as Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and opposition leaders.

The province will consider any request the city makes, said Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale. But police services boards are supposed to be independent of anyone's political control.

He likened it to the Medical Officer of Health, who can make decisions based on her best judgment even if it conflicts with council. De Caire's role is similar, McMeekin said.

"You don't want politicians running your police force."

Few complaints on budget

Whitehead was in favour of Merulla's motion, which is "not timely because of anything else other than the rising pressure on taxpayers across Ontario, and Hamilton is no exception," he said.

Hamilton's police budget has increased from $80 million in 2000 to $140 million today, he said.

"We can't afford to continue to go down this road."

Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 said she received very few complaints about the budget, which began at 5.25-per cent increase and ended up being 3.52 per cent over the year before. She wouldn't feel comfortable issuing orders to the chief, she said.

"I would never take that power and determination the chief has to have in his pocket for these issues," she said.

'Infantile partisan prattle'

"This is the first year the chief has really rocked the boat. I have not received complaints."

The debate turned tense when Merulla and Clark briefly argued. Merulla brought up that Clark was an MPP under Premier Mike Harris, when downloading occurred. He urged Clark to "stand up for your residents and be part of the solution rather than making apologies."

Clark countered that whenever someone doesn't support one of Merulla's motions, "there's this outrage of infantile partisan prattle that has absolutely nothing to do with the debate."

Also at Wednesday's meeting, city council voted in favour of issuing a demolition permit for the City Motor Hotel, an eyesore in Merulla's ward that was recently expropriated by the city.

The city takes possession on Thursday.

Who voted in favour of Merulla's police motion:

Terry Whitehead, Scott Duvall, Tom Jackson, Chad Collins, Sam Merulla, Jason Farr, Lloyd Ferguson, Judi Partridge

Who voted against:

Mayor Bob Bratina, Brian McHattie, Maria Pearson, Brenda Johnson, Robert Pasuta, Brad Clark