Study shows no link between police funding and crime rate as budget talks grip Hamilton


Published January 17, 2024 at 11:00 am

A recent study into the impacts of police funding on municipal crime rates found higher spending does not affect crime rates. The study comes as ever-rising policing costs have sparked significant controversy during Hamilton’s ongoing budget process.

Hamilton Police have requested a $20 million budget increase for the 2024 fiscal year, resulting in more than 50 delegates coming forward against the proposal in the Jan. 16 General Issues meeting. The proposed hike comes after another $12 million increase in 2023.

The year, the request sparked widespread protests in city council chambers, which called on the city to reduce the police budget. Such calls became commonplace in 2020, following the police murder of George Floyd in the United States.

However, they were particularly powerful in Hamilton amid the investigation into Cst. Brian Wren’s brutal assault of Patrick Tomchuk, an Indigenous man. Wren pled guilty to the assault around the same time as the budget process and resulting protests.

Ultimately, Mayor Andrea Horwath said the police funding was “necessary” but that the city was also investing in mental health treatment and housing. The city’s overall tax bill ended up increasing by 5.85 per cent for 2023. Things look worse for the 2024 budget, with the city eyeing a 14 percent hike.

Many of the delegates who have railed against the police budget hikes have cited their perception that social issues such as drug use and homelessness have not decreased in the city, even as police amass more resources.

“A higher police budget has not solved the opioid crisis or homelessness,” said Vic Wojciechowska, who serves as the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 3906, which represents McMaster University’s academic workers. “It’s not working. We have an opportunity to do things differently.”

“Our government would rather criminalize poverty than deal with it,” she said, noting that every death from the growing opioid crisis “is a person with a story.”

Dr. Emily Scherzinger, a faculty member at McMaster, said the “best solution” to the homelessness and opioid crisis facing Hamilton is to “provide people support” instead of raiding encampments. “The Hamilton Police does not deserve a budget increase.”

The new study conducted by the University of Toronto has backed up these claims. The researchers compared municipal police budgets in 20 municipalities (including Hamilton) from 2010 to 2021 and compared them to population and crime severity index data from Statistics Canada. Other studied cities include Toronto, Montreal, Peel Region, Calgary, York Region, Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Waterloo Region, Surrey, Quebec City, Halifax, Laval, London, Gatineau, Saskatoon, Burnaby, and Longueuil.

They found that in the decade they studied, 16 of the municipalities had increased their policing budgets. In many, police was the top budget item, taking up as much as 26 per cent of municipal funds. Additionally, they found some cities varied widely in spending. For example, Vancouver spent $495.84 per capita, while Quebec City spent $217.05 per capita.

However, the study found, “No consistent associations were found between police funding and crime rates across municipalities, and overall, net increases in spending per capita are not associated with greater net decreases in crime rates.”

“Although we do not make specific policy recommendations regarding police budgets, our findings raise questions about the reasoning for such vast differences in police funding across the country despite overall downward crime rates,” the authors concluded.

With files from Nate Sager and Glenn Hendry.

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