Hamilton is more or less in line with the rest of Canada in reporting a substantial drop in the crime rate over the past decade. Hamilton’s rate has dropped by about a third since 2006, reflecting, said Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt, an aging population and better enforcement techniques. Still the Hamilton Police Services budget will increase by 2.66 per cent to $157 Million in 2017. In the ten years that crime has dropped by a third, Hamilton’s police budget has increased by nearly 38 per cent. Inflation for the same period has increased by only 16 percent.
Still, Chief Eric Girt in a polished presentation to Hamilton Council last month defended the increases, saying police are expected to do much more than solve crimes and arrest felons—that a big part of their job involves social services and crime prevention – significantly; interacting with persons with mental and emotional issues. Chief Girt fielded a series of mostly friendly questions from councillors, and missing from this presentation was the perceived ‘take-it-or-leave it approach that marked the first budget presentations of Girt’s predecessor, Glenn DeCaire. In fact, Councillor Aiden Johnson thanked the chief for being willing to discuss the nuts and bolts of police operations to the extent that he did.
Dissenting from the general tone of approval was Councillor Matthew Green who said he had no particular quarrel with the operating budget as presented, but objected to the way council was asked to fund the proposed new forensics building; complaining that council had voted $5 Million for the project assuming the funds would be matched by the two senior levels of government, when in fact Ottawa and Queen’s Park declined to contribute. Instead the project will be funded by reserve the Police Services board managed to accumulate over the past few years, supplemented by a long term mortgage. Part of the reserves were achieved by a windfall reimbursement from the Province for Pan Am policing. That transaction raised some eyebrows when it was revealed by police watchdog and retired accountant Shekar Chandrashekar that the Hamilton Police Service had apparently overbilled the province for policing. Hamilton Police submitted a bill for budgeted costs rather than the actual costs incurred which resulted in a profit to HPS of $1.3 Million. This, despite a provincial official’s declaration that the police services who provided Pan Am policing were only to receive reimbursement for actual out of pocket expenses.
Councillor Donna Skelly, said she would not support an increase of 2.66 per cent for police when other city departments were being asked to stick to increases of 1.7 percent. She also questioned the fact that part of the funding for the proposed forensics facility will come out of reserves the Police Service managed to build up from previous operating budgets, which, at the time of their presentation to Council, were described as having no fat.