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Ontario cuts Hamilton's ACTION team funding

The provincial government will cut in half the funding Hamilton Police have used to pay for its high-profile downtown ACTION team.

Province cuts grant in half used to set up ACTION team in 2010

Hamilton Police's ACTION team often wear bright yellow jackets while they patrol the core. (Terry Asma/CBC)

The provincial government is cutting in half the special funding Hamilton Police uses to pay for its high-profile and controversial downtown ACTION team. 

But Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire said the service remains committed to the ACTION strategy and will continue the kind of policing ACTION does, with or without specially earmarked funding.

The province has been giving Hamilton $400,000 a year from a fund for Ontario police services called the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy or PAVIS. The concept originated with a special focus on curbing gun violence in Toronto 10 years ago, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, or TAVIS. 

As part of an overall cut to the program, for 2015-2016 the province will reduce the annual funding for PAVIS in Hamilton to about $210,000. That's part of a total $5.1 million from the province for Hamilton Police overall.

At the same time, the province is giving the Hamilton service an extra $300,000 for "local community safety and well-being efforts," said Lauren Callighen, press secretary for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

'The philosophy behind the work is still very valid'

While the funding has enabled police services to set up specialized, targeted policing in high-crime areas, some of the tools used, like carding, have been controversial. 

When the funding started in 2007, Hamilton applied its stream toward an investigative unit for gangs and weapons. 

But in 2010, with Chief Glenn De Caire at the helm, Hamilton used its $400,000 to launch its ACTION team, comprising officers on foot and bikes to address violent crime and disorder, mostly downtown.

The team is credited with helping cut crime in the core and is also part of the innovative Social Navigator program for dealing with at-risk individuals.

But in June, seven members of the ACTION were arrested and five charged as part of a probe into falsified tickets

ACTION officers are the only ones in the Hamilton force who do police street checks, a practice a community forum on Tuesday decried as unconstitutional and currently under review by the province.

Asked about the PAVIS funding cut on Tuesday, De Caire gave no hint of an impact to ACTION.

"I think the philosophy behind the work is still very valid and very important," he said. He said the service will continue to dedicate resources to building relationships in high-crime neighbourhoods, even with the PAVIS cut.

Under the former model, the grants are earmarked for particular uses, "whether a local need exists or not," Callighen said, "and are often reactive." 

But the Police Association of Ontario expressed concern about the cut. 

"If a program makes our neighbourhoods and communities safe from gang and drug crimes, why would they cut it?" the association said in a statement.

'An evaluation has to be made on how effective ACTION is'

"We decided to decrease annual funding for PAVIS ... as we believe that the best way to prevent crime and keep our communities safe is to give communities the ability to allocate funding where it's needed most," Callighen said. 

That leaves it to local police services to either put the new grants toward existing programs like ACTION or "redirect it to other community priorities." 

That flexibility is appealing to Hamilton Police Association president Clint Twolan, as long as the province doesn't cut overall funding.

If the service does decide to reduce its ACTION teams, Twolan said he hopes the money gets redirected to gangs, weapons and drugs investigators. 

"In the big scheme of things, an evaluation has to be made on how effective ACTION is," he said. "I can tell you we still need to maintain a version of the core (downtown) patrol. But the money can be used elsewhere."

In Toronto, TAVIS has received criticism for increasing tension between police and residents of Toronto's high-crime neighbourhoods.

"It was seen as heavy-handed — something that was sweeping up people who were going about their business in search of so-called bad guys," community organizer Neil Price told Matt Galloway on Friday CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

With files from CBC Toronto

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