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Right to Know Week, Day 2: Opening up the police blotter

For no good reason, Canadian police departments are much more secretive than their American counterparts.

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I'm writing this blog post somewhat expecting to be called out as the ugly American immigrant. Perhaps I am, but I hope readers will at least hear me out before throwing the CFA insults my way.

Earlier this year, I started giving the Halifax police department some grief on Twitter for what struck me as their overly secretive manner. See, on a daily basis we journalists get a "Watch Commander's Report" from the PD, which typically reports nothing at all. Yesterday's Watch Commander's report, for example, reads in its entirety: "Halifax Regional Police responded to 192 calls for service during today's shift, there were no calls of note to report." Sometimes the report will list one or two "notable incidents"; today's report is as follows:

Good morning the Halifax Regional Police responded to 125 calls for service last night with the following call of note.

Robbery, West Division:
GO 11-148129

At 11:00 pm west members responded to a report of a robbery that had occurred 10 minutes prior in the area of Lacewood Drive and Glenforest Drive. The victim, a 19 year old Halifax man, walked home and contacted the police. He reported walking along Lacewood and Glenforest drive at approximately 10:50 pm when he was approached by 2 black males who punched him in the face and had stolen his cell phone. One of the males was holding a knife during the incident. The suspects were last observed fleeing westbound along Glenforest drive.

The suspects are described as 16-17 years old; one wore a dark hoodie with the hood up and wore a black backpack. The other male who held the knife wore a dark tank top and zip up sweater, dark pants, shaved head and a chubby build. The victim received a bloody nose during the incident. There are no suspects at this time.

SGT. Greg Robertson 0165
PATROL/3WATCH

The way that single incident is reported is fairly informative, and will likely lead to some news stories in tomorrow's dailies. I don't have a problem with it in the least (I'll save commentary about police reporting on race for another time, but for the record, I think this report is fine on that front.)

I do, however, have a big problem with the number of incident reports given to the press/public. See, in every American city-- from podunk Searcy, Arkansas, population 10,000 (my last job) to New York City, population one gazillion, the entire police blotter---with each and every police call---is made available. The equivalent here in Halifax would be that 192 police calls would have been detailed yesterday, and 125 today.

In the states, every cub reporter has to do a stint on the police blotter-- I’ve done this in several cities; on my way to work, I’d stop by the police department, and the blotter was usually at a desk off in a corner somewhere, usually next to a copy machine. I’d drop in a few dimes, copy the whole thing and take it to the office. At some papers, we just printed the whole thing; at others, we’d select a few of the more interesting ones and write short pieces on them.

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xxx - Deprecated in favor of GTM, above.