Hamilton police report $2.1M surplus, as activists question city’s use of resources

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Published June 24, 2021 at 7:09 pm

After a year of calls for their budget to be cut, Hamilton Police Services is reporting a $2.13-million year-end surplus. There is also a 10-year high in use-of-force incidents, with a racialized disparity.

Those findings, which were publicized on Thursday (June 24) during a police services board meeting, have led to to social justice activists reaffirming calls for police reform. Those calls were voiced during Black Lives Matter gatharings in the city in the summer of 2020. Last September, the police board ultimately voted against a 20-per-cent budget reduction after receiving a staff report about just such a proposal.

The Hamilton Police Service’s $2,128,405 budget surplus for 2020 was more than 30 per cent higher than initially projected, due to receiving $562,077 in COVID-19 relief funding. The rest of the surplus came from lower-than-expected sick leave payouts (about $495Gs), unspent training ($453Gs), savings on fuel and utilities (just under $675Gs) and other savings (just under $57Gs).

The report presented Thursday suggests putting just more than half of that surplus into sick leave and tax stabilization reserves. Another $150,000 apiece would be earmarked into the 2021 capital reserve for a diesel fuel tank and $150,000 for an ice rescue/hovercraft vehicle.

Activists have suggested for a year that money used for policing could be put toward social services such as mental health supports.

“The police received an increase in their 2021 budget, and on top of that are moving the majority of the 2.1M surplus back into their reserve fund,” Defend HPS wrote in a Twitter thread. “Why can the police have both an increase in funding and an additional surplus? Why are other services drastically underfunded, while the Hamilton police can received so much funding?”

Last September, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who is the police board chair, read a statement acknowleding systemic racism.

On Thursday, the board also received a report on use of force by HPS officers in 2020. There were 431 last year, which is the most in any calendar year of the past decade, as well as nearly 25 per cent higher than rolling 10-year average. There was a 44-per-cent increase in instances where an officer pointed a firearm, although the number of times they fired a round was almost exactly the same as in 2019 (27 instances, after 28 the year prior).

(Hamilton Police Service.)

The use-of-force report also offered a racialized breakdown.

It said that Black people in Hamilton were on the receiving end of use of force at rate nearly five times higher than in the general population. Eighteen per cent of the incidents involved a subject whom officers identified  Black. The 2016 Canadian census said that 3.8 per cent of Hamilton’s population is Black.

(Hamilton Police Service)

The HPS has engaged the the Canadian Centre for Diversity Initiatives to, in its words, “identify any gaps and barriers to achieving an inclusive workplace.” A staff report is expected to come before the police board in September.

Also on Thursday, HPS announced it is launching the first phase of a Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. It will assign more officers to its social navigator program, after the disbranding of the school liaison officer program.

On Twitter, Defund HPS seemed to express skepticism with elements of the plan.

“SLOs (school liaison officers) were removed from school because they were harming BIPOC there,” the group wrote. “They should not be moved to causing harm to people who are mentally ill or in crisis.”

 

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