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No movement on body cameras, defunding as Hamilton’s police services board debates issues

Councillor Chad Collins predicts it's "inevitable", but for now, Hamilton police officers won't be following the lead of counterparts in Toronto by wearing body cameras. Gord Edick/Global News

Hamilton, at least for now, will not be joining the list of communities that are testing body-worn cameras on police officers.

There was discussion during Thursday’s police services board meeting about spending $250,000 on a 14-month pilot project involving 100 officers, but the idea was set aside for financial reasons.

Read more: No charges after July’s painting of Defund The Police across Hamilton’s Main Street

Coun. Chad Collins believes it is “inevitable” that police officers will eventually be wearing the technology, but right now, he describes it as “bad timing.”

“Not withstanding the benefits,” Collins says, “I don’t see an enhanced service in front of council during the pandemic as something that is palatable.”

He notes that even with provincial and federal assistance, “the city is in a $20-million deficit position for this year. We will probably face similar numbers going into next year.”

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Read more: Hamilton police suggest pilot project before decision on body cams: report

While $250,000 is the estimated cost of a pilot project, a report presented to the board by Supt. Mike Worster projects the cost of rolling out body-worn cameras across the service at $5 million over five years.

On top of that, Worster adds that the service would have spend money to upgrade its data management system.

Instead of proceeding with a pilot program, members of Hamilton’s police services board will continue to monitor the experience of other municipalities including Barrie, Guelph and Toronto, which recently announced that it will expand body-worn cameras to all front-line officers.

The defunding of police services was also up for discussion again at Thursday’s meeting of Hamilton’s police services board.

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

Members received, but took no other action, on a report from Police Chief Eric Girt that outlines the implications of cutting the Hamilton Police Service budget by 20 per cent.

The chief’s report says a 20-per cent cut would mean cutting $34.3 million from areas like traffic safety and victim services, and the loss of 279 sworn officers.

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Mayor Fred Eisenberger criticizes the “Defund The Police” movement as an attempt to “neutralize policing in our community to the point where officers don’t have a social construct anymore,” but provincial appointee Pat Mandy sees it as an important discussion to have in light of current events.

Mandy adds that “we need to have viable alternatives to police being involved in every situation,” saying they have become “the backstop when no one else knows what to do.”

Outside of the meeting, in the city hall forecourt, activists held a community teach-in on the subject of defunding police services.

Their message is that there are alternatives to policing and social services through which funds could be better spent in the community.

Click to play video: 'Canada-wide rallies held in support of defunding police services' Canada-wide rallies held in support of defunding police services
Canada-wide rallies held in support of defunding police services – Aug 29, 2020

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