Hamilton

Hamilton police chief makes case for $20M budget increase, saying service's ask is 'realistic'

Hamilton’s police chief and police board chair made their pitch for $213,422,645 in taxpayer dollars on Monday, telling city councillors the 10.24 per cent increase over last year’s budget is needed to keep policing in Hamilton at its current level of service.

Presentations continue before council considers final 2024 budget on Feb. 15

A police officer walking.
Hamilton police are asking for a budget increase of nearly $20 million for 2024. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Hamilton's police chief and police board chair made their pitch for $213,422,645 in taxpayer dollars on Monday, telling city councillors the 10.24 per cent increase over last year's budget is needed to keep policing in Hamilton at its current level of service. 

"The most significant part of this is maintaining the status quo," Hamilton police services board chair Pat Mandy told councillors, at the start of a week of budget presentations from city agencies, departments and boards leading up to the Feb. 15 target for budget approval. 

"The additions were to address concerns we heard from the community in addition to recommendations out of inquests," she said. "There was, again, nothing additional that would be 'nice to have' or 'nice to do.'" 

"I felt [the items in the budget] were very important to continue to be able to provide adequate and effective policing to the community," Mandy added. 

The budget proposal includes money for several new staffers, including a crime analyst supervisor, a communications coordinator, an organizational development specialist, an automotive technician and a "niche trainer" — new hires recommended in the force's 2023-2026 strategic plan. It also includes three hires for a new missing person's unit, whose salaries and benefits will cost the force $427,304 annually, but only represent $142,434 in this year's budget as the plan is to hire them later in the year.

On the capital side, the force hopes to spend $190,000 for a prisoner escort vehicle.

Chief Frank Bergen told CBC Hamilton he feels the budget increase is a modest request compared to that of other police forces in the region.

"Peel settled for a 14 per cent increase… to their budget. London was 16.8 [per cent] so they added $22.6 million on there," he said following his presentation. "I'd be quite comfortable saying that our approach at 6.88 [per cent] is realistic."

The 6.88 per cent refers to what Bergen describes as the police's "base" budget, the cost of "providing adequate and effective police services." The additional 3.36 per cent increase relates to the cost of "infrastructure and administration necessary for providing police services, including vehicles, boats, equipment, communication devices, building and supplies," says a report Bergen submitted to council alongside the proposed 2024 budget.

"Our board is mandated in the province to put a strategic plan together," Bergen said. "We're just advising the public and through our board the cost to be able to do that."

Councillors voted to receive the presentation Monday and will make a decision on it later in the process.

'A budget presentation is not a budget'

While several councillors had questions for Bergen, the budget's most vocal opponent was downtown Coun. Cameron Kroetsch (Ward 2). Kroestch is a member of the police board's budget committee. He reiterated his concerns that the police budget process doesn't allow members much time for scrutiny.

"I was not able to go through the budget," he said. "The board in no way reviewed the budget in detail.

"A budget presentation is not a budget. This was hurried along."

The police board voted to approve the proposed budget, four votes to two, in December. The two members opposed were Kroetsch and Dr. Anjali Menezes — who both sit on the budget committee. 

Other councillors, including Matt Francis (Ward 5) and Ted McMeekin (Ward 15), voiced their support for the police and their work in the community. 

"We can talk about sending something back. It may be the will of the horseshoe but it's not where I am coming from, to be frank," said McMeekin.

"When I talk to my folk, through the 40-member community council, and I ask them about 'what do you want to see?' It's police, fire, [paramedics], all the emergency services."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saira Peesker is a reporter with CBC Hamilton, with particular interests in climate, labour and local politics. She has previously worked with the Hamilton Spectator and CTV News, and is a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail, covering business and personal finance. Saira can be reached at saira.peesker@cbc.ca.

With files from Bobby Hristova

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