May 11 2016
HAMILTON - Hamilton's new police chief named two priorities during his official introduction to the city Wednesday.
"Our priorities are building relationships, maintaining the public trust," Chief Eric Girt told reporters at the Central Station forecourt.
Girt, 54, steps into the top job after serving as deputy chief for 10 years. He has a five-year contract.
Girt replaces former chief Glenn De Caire, who abruptly announced his retirement in December.
His fellow deputy chief, Ken Weatherill, had also hoped to fill the vacancy, which the police services board decided to fill internally, rather than search externally.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the board, said both candidates "hit home runs" during interviews, but it was Girt's 10 years of experience as deputy that gave him the edge.
Girt also offers a different style from De Caire, Ferguson said, describing the new chief of Ontario's six-largest police force as "shy," something his predecessor was not.
At the time, the police service needed De Caire's tougher approach to crack down on discipline, Ferguson said.
Girt has a lighter touch, the councillor suggested.
"I think we're ready for that after Glenn. Glenn was needed at the time. But now we need someone with a little softer style."
During his speech, Girt spoke of innovation, compassion and adaptation.
He also referenced the importance of working with those who suffer from mental illness, addiction and poverty.
"We want people to get the help. We want to reduce use of force if we can."
Ferguson said the internal search was meant to show the board had confidence in the service's existing leadership.
The board recruited De Caire from Toronto in December 2009.
The police association is pleased a new chief was found internally, president Clint Twolan said.
It's encouraging for members to see one of their own rise through the ranks over a 30-year commitment to the service, Twolan said.
"It gives the members that confidence. Remain committed to your organization and you'll be rewarded."
Last year, a police association survey - which involved 695 of the service's 1,205 members - found morale was low with 83 per cent of sworn officers saying they worked in a "culture of fear."
Twolan described the former chief as "much more autocratic" than Girt, whom he said has a more collaborative approach.
"(Girt's) a stable person. He's a level-headed, calm, cool and collected approach."
Hamilton's 35th police chief takes the helm after a turbulent stretch.
Under De Caire, the police service was scrutinized for beating up a man after officers broke into the wrong home during a drug raid; the shooting death of Steve Mesic, a 45-year-old who struggled with mental illness and allegations ACTION team officers faked tickets.
Girt, who spoke highly of De Caire, said he's "cognizant that we stand on the shoulders of those who precede us."
He's facing increasing pressure to address random street checks.