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What's behind the street check report delay?

A massive tangle of data may be part of the holdup.

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The long-awaited Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission report on carding has been delayed until late March for “several reasons,” Scot Wortley, the project’s sole researcher, told The Coast in an email. 

The biggest holdups, writes Wortley, are “the vast amount of data that has been collected” and the amount of time it takes to analyze it all. 

Wortley was hired by the HRC in late 2017 to look into the racial discrimination in the “random” stops carried out by Halifax Regional Police. Data published by the CBC in early 2017 showed that Black men were three times more likely than white men to get stopped and questioned by police in the HRM.

In preparing the report Wortley has met with all levels of HRP staff, from crime analysts to police chief Jean-Michel Blais, and with several RCMP detachments. There was also an 11-stop community meeting tour and an online survey. 

In a series of emails released to The Coast in a freedom of information request, Wortley told the HRC in early December that some of the data from the Street Checks and Attitudes Towards the Police public survey had come back “in rough shape.

“For some reason, the responses to specific questions appear to have been lost and some of the data appears like gibberish.” 

According to the emails, there was an issue analyzing the data through the contractor, SelectSurvey. Because SelectSurvey doesn’t have its own active support, government IT was responsible for handling the questions, but the lead architect seemed confused about the source of the problem.

According to Christopher Murphy, a sociologist who has worked with the HRP before, data jumbles like this are par for the course.

“They mess up occasionally on these things,” says Murphy. “There are any one of a number of things that can go wrong.”

According to the emails, there are over 14 datasets from the crime analysts alone. Other datasets span more than 10 years of street check records, and have over 100,000 entries. Murphy says analyzing large amounts of data from police was always going to be messy: “When you have data like this, it’s often very poorly recorded. This data was not being gathered with any sense it was going to be ever used probably and be accountable.”

On top of data difficulties, Wortley is still teaching criminology at the University of Toronto. His teaching and administrative responsibilities mean he can’t travel out to the east coast until March.

His final report is expected to be reviewed by the Board of Police Commissioners before its public release on March 27. 

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