By Mark Newman
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The request from the Hamilton Police Service for a 4.75-per-cent or $6.4-million budget increase appeared to be well-received at a public meeting at Mohawk College.
“I think you’re underfunded,” commented one individual during the Jan. 10 meeting.
“I don’t know why you’re getting a fuss about more funding,” said another.
Terry McGurk, manager of COAST (Crisis Outreach and Support Team), said that without the budget increase the number of police officers assigned to their 24/7 service would be chopped from four to two.
“I cannot see how we can actually function the way we are functioning right now with having the two officers taken from our services,” McGurk said.
COAST responds to about 4,700 mental health and addiction-related calls for help each year.
Support for the budget increase was by no means unanimous.
“When is enough police officers enough?” asked another man. “I worry when we come back each year and the police budget keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
About 40 people were on hand for the meeting led by Police Chief Glenn De Caire. But the majority of the audience consisted of senior police officers, police services board members and media.
De Caire spent about a half-hour giving a brief overview of his proposed $142,083,550 spending plan, which includes hiring 20 new officers and one new civilian employee, before taking questions.
“We want to be reasonable and we want to have a measured response to allow our business processes to maximize their efficiency while we supplement with what we know we need on the front lines to deliver services,” De Caire said.
While there have been spikes in violent crime from time to time, the chief noted calls for service have remained unchanged in recent years.
“Our calls for service generally over the last five years have remained relatively stable, running anywhere between 75,000 and 80,000 calls per service (annually),” De Caire said.
However, De Caire also pointed out that the amount of time officers are spending on calls has been increasing since 2006.
Ward 8 councillor and police services board member Terry Whitehead said two of the budget supporters in the audience helped develop the business plan for the police service and that the audience did not represent majority public opinion about the proposed budget increase.
Whitehead said the public has not been engaged in the process.
“They know there is a dog and pony show going on,” he said.
The west Mountain councillor said about 86 per cent of the approximately 1,200 responses to his online poll indicated opposition to the 4.75 per cent budget hike.
Whitehead said the poll was taken down about a week ago after it was hacked.
The Hamilton Police Services Board, at its Nov. 27 meeting, was presented a budget that represented a 5.25 per cent increase.
Police board members sent the budget back to the chief for further review and De Caire came back with the 4.75 per cent hike at the board’s December meeting.
Whitehead said he could support a 3.62-per-cent budget increase, noting that would maintain police services at last year’s level.