The Hamilton police services board is asking city council to consult the public on a proposal to spend almost $1 million to arm all front-line officers with Tasers.
The board approved a recommendation Monday from Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire to “canvass the community, through city council,” and then get council’s position on the plan.
The chief proposed expanding the use of Tasers, or stun guns, after the province approved their broader use last month.
The city is being asked to foot the bill for the Tasers – $992,462 for new equipment, personnel and training in 2014 and $635,433 for ongoing costs annually thereafter.
The equipment cost for all front-line officers is about $324,611 and includes 150 Tasers, holsters, cartridges and targets.
The service would need two full-time instructors to implement the program at a cost of about $226,449. The instructors also would require courses and certification at a cost of $11,800.
Four new constables would need to be hired to fill the void left by officers attending training. That would cost about $429,601 initially.
Board member and Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson acknowledged there are benefits to expanding the use of Tasers.
“It might save some lives. It’s obvious if you’re shot with a bullet or shot with an electrical current, there’s a big difference in the amount of damage you can do to the person,” he said. “Obviously, the concern is cost; I think taxpayers have had enough. We’ve got to turn to the province; this is their suggestion. They can’t instruct us to use it and not give us the money to do it with, and so that will be the subject of further debate.”
The Hamilton Police Service has 66 Tasers now. Last year, Tasers were drawn 49 times, but in only 14 incidents were they actually fired, according to a report by the chief.
Of the 49 incidents, 17 involved emotionally-disturbed or mentally ill persons.
Board member Madeleine Levy said it’s “very important” that the board not rush into expanding the use of Tasers.
“All of the police service boards are grappling with this. I think that we have to look at the ever-changing nature of mental health, how it’s presented,” she said. “I think it’s very important that the community understand what use of force is. The community has to understand what the methods are of de-escalation and also understand, hearing from first responders, mental health workers, psychologists, about what are the ramifications and what are the new emerging ones.”
The police services board also approved a recommendation Monday to hold the remainder of its meetings this year in city hall’s council chambers to make them more accessible to the public.
The matter will be reviewed again at the end of the year.