Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt and some of his staff were on the hot seat at the General Issues Committee of council today to answer a variety of questions about police budget practices and its interaction with groups in the community who have raised concerns about policing. In recent weeks, council and committee meeting agendas have contained dozens of letters urging the defunding of police services in Hamilton and it was decided to invite Girt to appear before council for a wide-ranging question and answer session.
Coun. Terry Whitehead used the opportunity to get the Chief to confirm that Whitehead had been tough and relentless when it came to scouring the police budget for possible savings. He also invited the Chief to comment on Whitehead’s views on carding—the practice of randomly stopping and questioning individuals—one that had been widely criticized for overly targeting racial minorities. When the Chief couldn’t recall specifics, the councillor went on to say he had not favoured carding.
Councillor Nann said that of 8 people who have died in Hamilton from use of force, 44% were black or racialized, disproportionate to the population. She asked the chief why do mental health calls result in people dying? The chief replied that no one wants to see a person in a mental health crisis injured or killed, but sometimes, they pose a risk to officers. The use of knives in particular is up, he said.
Councillor Lloyd Ferguson zeroed in on an email from Cojo Damptey, head of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) that the councillor said was wrong in several key assertions around the growth in the police budgets and the continuing use of carding (the chief said there was one carding last year compared to thousands before the process was stopped). “I can’t trust the information we are getting from some members of the community,” Ferguson concluded.
Councillor Brad Clark wanted to know what efforts have been made to dialogue with the Police services two biggest critics—Hamilton Pride and HCCI.
Committee chair Brenda Johnson was strict in enforcing the five minute rule for individual questions and answers resulting in some disjointed discussion flow. She cautioned some councillors whose preambles to questions ate up half of their allotted time.