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Front-line cops to get their stun guns

Police board backs chief’s pension plan funding strategy

By Laura Lennie, News Staff

The Hamilton police services board has approved a plan to equip all front-line officers with Tasers without increasing taxes in 2014.

Members voted unanimously on Monday to back a strategy by Chief Glenn De Caire to pay for the purchase of 150 stun guns using a surplus from an Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System plan.

An agreement was made in 1996 between the board, Hamilton Police Association and Senior Officers Association that the surplus from the pension plan would be used only for officer safety. The two associations also agreed with De Caire’s strategy, which will see the pension surplus pay for the equipment – $324,611 to be phased in over three years – and the first year of maintenance at a cost of $144,037.

The chief dropped his initial plan to hire six new staff to cover officers in training.

“When it came to council, my position was that I was leaning to support Tasers in every hand, but not at the cost of asking the taxpayers to put forward another $1.6 million,” said Terry Whitehead, a board member and Mountain councillor. “If the province wanted to allow police services to have Tasers then they should be providing the funding to ensure that they got Tasers. What the chief has done is found a means and a way to address the capital costs and training without impacting the levy whatsoever and that was certainly one of my big concerns.”

De Caire unveiled the funding solution at the start of a Dec. 10 public meeting called by the board to get citizens’ views on the expanded use of Tasers. Until then, city council and even police board members had expressed reservations about equipping all officers with Tasers because of the price tag.

Fifteen people made presentations to the board, including Sharon Dorr, the fiancée of 45-year-old Steve Mesic, who was fatally shot by police on June 7.

Dorr said she felt “conflicted” about expanding the use of Tasers – also known as conducted energy weapons, or CEWs – to all front-line officers.

“I am concerned that CEWs will be misused. I do not have faith in all officers’ ability to accurately implement the training they have received around CEW use; what one officer does in a situation, another will do something different,” she said, adding she also believes that Tasers are an alternative to firearms. “I believe that my spouse, the father of my son could possibly be alive today if the officers that shot and killed him utilized a CEW rather than a firearm. I cannot make sense of the gap that exists between potentially utilizing a CEW to six shots fired in a man’s torso with no chance of living. I personally think front-line (officers) should be equipped with CEWs in place of firearms. Training should be thorough and frequently reviewed around CEW use.”

Whitehead said although there may be instances of misuse, he’s confident the province will provide the utmost training.

“There’s guidelines coming down by the province in regards to the use of Tasers, knowing that there’s going to be a greater proliferation of Tasers in a number of communities throughout Ontario. I got to think that it’s going to be a gold-plated standard in regards to the training, which we would expect when you hand a weapon to the police services,” he said. “I believe that lives, in fact, will be saved. I believe that there will be some abuse, but that abuse would be completely outweighed from the benefit to this community.”

De Caire proposed expanding the use of Tasers in September, after the province approved their broader use in August.

The city was asked to foot the bill for the expansion – $992,462 for 150 Tasers, holsters, cartridges, targets, personnel and training in 2014 and $635,433 for ongoing costs annually thereafter – but council balked at the cost, arguing Hamilton doesn’t have the money to fund such a large program.

Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse will present a report to the board on the progress of the Taser initiative after the first year of implementation. The program is expected to cost $381,411 in 2015, a figure that includes the creation of two new positions – a sergeant to oversee it and a use of force training officer.

Whitehead said there will be a push for the chief to find ways to absorb those costs in the 2015 budget.

“I’ve already served notice that any costs going forward that’s associated with the Tasers that come back on the levy as additional pressure, I won’t accept,” he said. “He’s going to have to absorb it within his budget, period.”

 

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