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Demonstrators paint ‘Defund The Police’ in front of Hamilton city hall before board meeting

Demonstrators painted the phrase 'DEFUND THE POLICE' outside Hamilton City Hall. Will Erskine / 900 CHML

A renewed call to redistribute funding for police in Hamilton saw the words “Defund The Police” painted right in front of city hall.

It happened on Thursday afternoon, coinciding with a Hamilton police services board meeting that touched on several subjects central to the discussion of police defunding, including use of force.

The demonstration on Main Street included about 100 people painting the phrase on the roadway with yellow paint, while speakers called on the city to immediately reduce the police budget by 20 per cent.

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Shortly after demonstraters finished painting the phrase, a City of Hamilton spokesperson sent an email to media, saying that city workers would be removing the paint “out of an abundance of caution” and “in the interest of motorist safety”.

“The paint used is household paint that will create slippery conditions impacting safe driving on the roadway,” wrote manager of communications Jen Recine.

“The City of Hamilton supports the public’s right to protest and is removing the paint only in the interest of public safety.”

Read more: Hamilton to consider calls to defund police despite skepticism from board

While the phrase was painted on Main Street, the police services board received a report detailing the ‘use of force’ incidents involving Hamilton police in 2019.

The report indicates that officers used force 265 times last year, which is the second-highest number in the past decade, only coming in below 311 ‘use of force’ incidents in 2012.

Seventy-two of those incidents required medical attention, with the report indicating that the majority of those were ‘minor in nature’.

Sgt. Andrew Poustie, who co-authored the report, noted that ‘medical attention’ includes removing the probes of conducted-energy weapons (CEWs) and apprehending people in order to bring them in for mental health treatment.

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“Both of these require mandatory medical assistance under our guidelines, so we count those as medical attention,” said Poustie. “So there may not necessarily have been injury, but those are counted as ‘seeking medical attention’.”

When asked about how officers are trained about using force, Chief Eric Girt said “de-escalation is the primary focus”.

“When it does come down to a deadly lethal interaction of either ourselves or somebody else, we also train for that, but it’s certainly not the starting point,” said Girt. “But you have to look at what is happening presently right in front of you, and the response to that.”

Read more: More than defunding police needed to fix ‘broken’ mental health system: experts

Thursday’s meeting also saw a presentation about the Crisis Response Branch, which is made up of three different units depending on the severity of the situation — the Social Navigator Program (SNP), the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) and the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT).

Girt said police are open to ‘getting out of the business’ of what some of those units are responding to.

“Where other agencies may be in a position to do and provide that work, we’re happy to let them do that work. Where it is life-threatening, in my view, I believe we need to remain engaged.”

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The call to defund the police budget by 20 per cent and re-distribute some of the funding toward other services is currently under review, with a report due back before the police services board later this year.

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