Hamilton police Chief Frank Bergen answered more than three hours worth of questions from city council during Wednesday’s general issues committee meeting about the police service’s request to have a roughly $196 million budget approved.
Hamilton Police Service (HPS) is asking for $195,851,008, up $12 million or 6.71 per cent from last year’s budget.
Bergen’s presentation came a day after councillors asked city staff if they could reject the budget and if so, what would happen next.
Bergen told councillors this year’s budget wasn’t over the top, but rather is needed to provide adequate and effective policing. He said it could be far more expensive if he tried to implement things like body cameras for officers.
“This is a maintenance budget … there is nothing discretionary,” he said. “For every one per cent operating cost you ask me to deplete my budget, that’s 19 sworn full-time employees,” Bergen said while answering a question from Ward 8 Coun. John Paul Danko.
Bergen also emphasized the need to work with community agencies, adding the service gave $1.6 million from its grant money to agencies like Interval House, YMCA, Wesley Urban Ministries, John Howard Society and Hamilton Regional Indian Centre.
“We are not the answer for everything, we are not the default service provider,” he said.
With a new crop of councillors and police services facing increased scrutiny in recent years, the chances of Hamilton city council rejecting the police service’s request for a budget bump are higher than ever this year — but it’s still unclear how many councillors are considering that move right now.
During the meeting a 15-year-old student died after a hit and run while walking home from school. Another 15-year-old student was robbed and stabbed near a different high school. Officers made arrests in both cases.
Most of the budget, Bergen said, is to pay officers’s salaries, overtime and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claims. The budget works out to $332 per resident for the year, according to the presentation.
He added the budget request could be reduced by over $2 million if the city paid for services like a parking lot replacement at station 10, a roof replacement at station 20 and a vehicle to transport vehicles, among a few other things.
Bergen also said local police get less funding compared to neighbouring municipalities.