By Devin K.
Hamilton Police Services and the Police Service board are currently attempting to force the city to approve a near 5% ($6.2 million) budget increase. The current process began after city council initially refused the proposed police budget and requested that it be scaled back and re-worked, with budget increases limited to inflation - a call made to all city boards and agencies, but ignored by the cops.
Year after year the police’s cut has consistently gotten fatter, despite a falling crime rate and with little deliberation at city hall. The primary motive behind this year’s increase is simply the cops giving themselves a raise – salary and benefit increases make up 4.41% of the 5%. This is particularly heinous within the context of a province wide wage freeze for public sector workers and the cost cutting other city agencies like hospitals have been forced to undertake.
Mayor and vice chair of the police services board Bob Bratina lazily justified the increase by telling the Hamilton Spectator that any cuts to the budget would result in “officers being taken off the street”. This would be a relief to anyone but Bob and his rich friends, given the suffocating over-policing already happening in downtown Hamilton. The ACTION Team* has become infamous in the last year for the brutal and militaristic tactics they use to clear the streets of youth, poor folk and anyone else hanging around – those very individuals Bob lovingly referred to as “bums and winos”, prior to becoming mayor. A new mounted unit is another expensive eyesore taking up space on King Street.
Bob went on to say that “The board had gone through as thorough a review of the budget as possible and there was really no wiggle room,” and is hoping we will simply take his word for it, as the Police Service board has refused to make the details of the budget public, claiming the right to privacy from public scrutiny granted to them the Police Services Act. Given the fact that the Toronto Police Service make a line by line account of their budget available, “security” is not exactly a reasonable explanation for shutting the public out of the process. But it seems that either his spineless character or sheer contempt for the people he was elected to represent keeps Bob Bratina from pushing the issue.
If Hamiltonians were given the liberty of knowing how the cops were spending their money, where might we look first to cut costs? One logical place might be to stop paying cops who have committed major crimes or breaches of trust while on duty: the cops participating in the drug trade, robbing evidence lockers, and those sexually harassing, murdering and otherwise brutalizing civilians; the cops who get a paid vacation or “suspension with pay” on the public dollar once they find themselves in hot water.
But of course we can expect the operating budget for the police to increase during an economic crisis and the degradation of our quality of life that accompanies it. As more and more people find themselves forced to the margins of society, the more money we will see poured into policing and repressive projects like the ACTION Team. One thing we should never expect, however, is for our elected officials to truly act in our interests and hold their thugs accountable - whether it’s to their budgets or to their actions.
On April 30th a Day of Action Against Police Brutality** is being held in Hamilton demanding justice for Andreas Chinnery***, and in opposition to all brutal, unaccountable police. The day will begin with a rally at 1PM at Hamilton City Hall.
*For an excellent in depth analysis of the ACTION team check out: http://www.maydaymagazine.ca/issues/april-2011/item/155-questioning-the-action-team
**Find it on facebook or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*** Andreas Chinnery was an unarmed 19 year old recently murdered by Hamilton police