A glance at next week’s Hamilton City Council agenda shows roughly 120 pieces of anti police correspondence. They may be largely form letters, but they indicate that there is a growing segment of the Hamilton population that doesn’t trust police. There were 18 letters largely supporting the installation of body cameras and almost a hundred letters calling for either the de-funding of police, a freeze on police budget increases, or some other form of cutback.
For the Hamilton Police Service the pushback is partly a reaction of the George Floyd murder and other deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police; but it also comes on the heels of a scathing report into the 2019 Hamilton Pride violence at Gage Park, that said Hamilton police bungled their response. The cumulative effect of the two circumstances is that if they are not already, police accounting staff had better be sharpening their pencils in preparation for next years budget, because any kind of increase is going to be a tough sell.
Police Board member Chad Collins may have thought it would be clever to ask staff to prepare a report on what a 20 percent police budget reduction would look like, but anti-police activists have already signalled that they are ready to trash the report as a publicity stunt. And the public is paying attention. The days of decreasing violent crime going hand-in-hand with increased police budgets are likely over.
What police everywhere need to understand, especially that minority who like to whack people is –you can’t get away with it anymore. Pretty much every citizen these days is walking around with a high-definition digital still and movie camera in their pocket. Add to that, the countless surveillance cameras and doorbell cameras, dashcams– and there is virtually no place to hide bad behavior.
Rather than de-fund police, we should be focusing on fixing the problem. That means displacing the minority of bad cops with good ones. The union agreements need to be changed so that it is easier to discipline and remove offenders. We need to get away from the morale-destroying spectacle of cops dragging out paid suspensions for years and then retiring. Suspensions need to be suspensions of pay. Training on conflict de-escalation and non-lethal force needs to be enhanced, and needs to be updated throughout an officer’s career. Our drug laws have created two streams of criminals—the violent criminals who provide the drugs and kill each other, and the drug users who commit crimes to feed their habit. Prohibition didn’t work for booze and pot—why do we continue to think it works for hard drugs? A lot of police resources are spent on a war that was lost long ago. Police service boards need to be expanded to allow for more diversity in their membership. Seven members in a large city and five members in a small city is not enough to allow that.
On de-funding police—how do we de-couple the social and crisis-intervention functions that police perform on a daily basis from their work fighting crime? It would be good if we could see a thoughtful proposal outlining what that would look like. De-funders talk about transferring the de-funded portion of police budgets to social housing and other poverty initiatives. The entire Hamilton police budget of $170 odd Million wouldn’t buy us 500 housing units. This is a tough time for the majority of police officers who take their obligation to serve and protect seriously, who genuinely try to help people and who are honest in what is one of the most stressful jobs around. We need to hear from them as part of the community voices if there is to be an intelligent debate on policing.