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Advocate wants ‘specifics’ from Hamilton police board on chief’s defunding report

A leader with Hamilton's Centre for Civic Inclusion says he will be watching the city's police board meeting on Thursday and hopes that members will ask "specific" questions about a brief report on defunding the service. Lisa Poleweski / Global News

The head of one of Hamilton’s most vocal advocacy groups on policing says a two-page “letter” from the city’s chief of police advising against defunding the service “lacks accountability.”

Kojo Damptey, manager of programs at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, says limiting the so-called report to just a couple of pages without a “specific breakdown” of the impacts on the service and its personnel suggests indifference to the subject.

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“It’s bordering the line of incompetence and flat out disregard for what community members are asking for,” Damptey told Global News.

“They are asking for accountability, and that two-pager lacks accountability.”

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On Thursday, Hamilton police chief Eric Girt will present a brief report to the police service board suggesting that a 20-per cent budget reduction or defunding of the service would result in a “decrease in service delivery.”

The summary is in response to a motion from a June 11 board meeting that requested a study on the implications of a proposed 20 per cent cut to the police budget tied to local protests in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis.

“These reductions would result in increased response times, decreased visibility in the community, a decrease in self-initiated policing and a decrease in service delivery,” Girt said in the report.

Girt suggests a 20 per cent cut would equate to about a $34-million reduction in the city’s current policing budget of $171 million and likely means the loss of about 279 officers, since 90 per cent of the police budget is comprised of employee salaries and benefits.

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But Damptey says the two pages simply doesn’t capture that argument.

“There are different types of police officers, there are citizens, sworn officers, police constables, there are detectives, sergeants,” said Damptey. “Give us a breakdown of that number. What would it mean?”

The chair of the police services board, Mayor Fred Eisenberger, says the letter is a “clear indicator” that the “flat out defund the police notion” isn’t a reality in the minds of board members.

The conversation is not likely going to happen at the police services board, it’s going to happen through a community wellness and safety exercise that’s being led by the city of Hamilton that the police are a partner in,” said Eisenberger.

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The mayor suggests that city programs like the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) and the citizens in crisis program are examples of non-policing public safety partnerships with social service agencies and paramedics that work to prevent “bad outcomes.”

“That’s been going on for decades, and that kind of sense of social responsibility, I think, continues to be important,” Eisenberger said.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor says there are still “ample opportunities” for delegates across the community to express concerns to the police services board and its budget issues.

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“I’m interested in open, thoughtful, considerate dialogue to see how we can move together, to come to solutions and conclusions about what’s the best way to go for this community rather than just flat out statements saying defund the police,” Eisenberger said.

Damptey says he will be watching the board meeting on Thursday and hopes that the members will ask “specific” and “detailed” questions about line items in the budget.

He also hopes that the board does away with the notion that those asking for the defunding of police are “anti-police.”

“We are for accountability and we are for transparency,” Damptey said.

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