By Richard Leitner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire is rejecting calls to cut a proposed $7.1-million increase to his budget, insisting he can’t do without the 20 new officers it contains because of a growing workload.
“We are in fact falling behind and we are unable to keep up,” he told the police board during a lengthy presentation on his proposed $142.7-million budget, a jump of 5.25 per cent over last year.
De Caire said the 20 extra cops and one civilian position in the budget account for $1.6 million of the increase – the rest will go to wage, benefit and pension increases – and are needed to keep up with population growth, mostly in Binbrook.
While the plethora of statistics he used to bolster his case showed crime in Hamilton is dropping – mirroring national trends – De Caire said it’s taking his existing 797 officers 36,000 more hours to respond to the 85,000 calls they get each year.
That’s the equivalent of the new hires, he said, adding that without them police will have to cut “20 functions.”
The potential list includes five school resource officers, four officers who work the night desk at the Mountain and east-end stations, nine crime managers and two members of a crisis outreach and support team, he said.
“We are saturated and we can no longer support this level of service delivery,” De Caire said. “We are doing the absolute best that we can but these people are tired. They’re working hard.”
Mayor Bob Bratina said taxpayers may complain about the budget increase, which he pegged at about $30 per household, but they don’t have the background information to appreciate why it is needed.
His motion to simply receive, rather than approve, the budget to allow for more “education” for board members, council and the public, passed unanimously.
“We need to take the conversation away from a number,” Bratina said, calling the chief’s statistical presentation “quite informative.”
“We have access to more information and we tend to understand demands on policing, whereas the public will be confronted with a number and they’ll see $7 million or 5.25 per cent,” he said. “It’s taken, in my opinion as the mayor, slightly out of context.”
But both of council’s two other representatives on the seven-member board said they have difficulty supporting the budget as is.
Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli said while a spending freeze would be “totally unreasonable,” he’s uncomfortable with a 5.25 per cent increase. He suggested the chief must sell the public on the idea.
“When you can come out there and say we’re going to hire 20 new (officers), and I feel strongly about this service and what it does, I’m just telling you that’s a very tough comment to make in this economic environment,” he said.
Councillor Terry Whitehead said police budgets have been well above council targets in recent years and it’s hard to credibly ask other departments to do more with less without also doing so to police.
The cumulative impact of police increases “weighs heavily on taxpayers,” he said, particularly when many have had their own pay frozen by the economic downturn.
“It’s going to be a very tough sell, and I don’t dispute the need. What I dispute is, is this the time?” Whitehead said.
“I heard the mayor speak about, it’s only $30 on your tax bill this time around. But it was $30 last year. It was $30 the year before and $30 the year before.”
Provincial appointee Irene Stayshyn blamed “the press” for public hostility to increasing the police budget, citing coverage of declining crime rates and officers who are suspended with pay while awaiting hearings on misconduct charges.
“The public is being fed this information,” she said, crediting police for the falling crime rates. “How do you make them understand that in order for our public safety to continue the way it is that we do need these extra officers?”