A special meeting of HRM’s Board of Police Commissioners has been called for this week after an internal police audit found over half of the Criminal Investigation Division’s drug exhibits might be missing.
Completed last summer, and revised with a further investigation this past spring, the audit was released to The Coast two weeks ago through a Freedom of Information request. Halifax Regional Police made the report public at a press conference held just hours after we published our investigation last Thursday.
The audit also determined the cops have a 90 percent failure rate for evidence continuity, and highlighted a host of other security concerns in how drugs and seized cash are being stored at police headquarters.
All of that appears to have been new information for the police department’s civilian oversight board.
“No,” says board chair and HRM councillor Russell Walker, when asked if he knew about the audit before last week.
“Yes,” says Walker, when asked if the board should have been made aware of it earlier.
On Thursday, June 30, the board will meet at City Hall to discuss the audit’s findings—both in camera and out. A “personnel matter” involving police investigative techniques (as detailed in the audit) will be privately discussed before a public presentation about what the report uncovered.
Walker wouldn’t comment about the audit other than to say it’s “an ongoing investigation.” He added that the board is reviewing its governance structure under Nova Scotia’s Police Act to make sure it’s not kept in the dark again.
“We’re reviewing the Act and seeing what our authority actually is,” says the Halifax-Bedford Basin West councillor. “Just so that things come to the Commission, so the Commission’s in the loop of knowing what’s going on, when.”
In camera updates on any personnel or legal matters will also now be standard practice at Board of Police Commissioners meetings, says Walker, so that the municipality is “brought up on things that are ongoing, from here on in.”
Deputy police chief Bill Moore explained to The Coast last year that internal audits aren’t normally presented to the board unless “there's something major or over the top.”
Halifax police claim the high rate of missing exhibits found by the audit is a result of poor file management and probably not theft (though they can’t say for sure).
Criminal Investigation Division superintendent Jim Perrin said last week the department is “not aware” of missing exhibits or poor continuity having any impact on court cases.
“I would agree with you that there is an ethical obligation, as part of full and frank disclosure, if there's an issue around a file,” Perrin said. “The fact that a keystroke wasn't done on the electronic file doesn't mean there wasn't good continuity on the exhibit from start to finish.”
Defence lawyers in Halifax told The Coast that the department’s failure to disclose the audit’s findings over the last several months has likely violated disclosure obligations under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That may lead to overturned convictions, and put the police department, and the municipality, at risk of legal action.