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Police backtrack on statements that no cases have been affected

Police board questions why they were not told of missing evidence

June 30, 2016

he Halifax Regional Police are double-checking that no cases were affected by the loss or theft of exhibits from the evidence vaults at police headquarters.

Despite Supt. Jim Perrin's assertion last week during a news conference that he "would have heard" if missing evidence had affected a case, there is now a four-person task force in place to comb the vaults in search of the 70 missing exhibits.

"We won't know what is affected until we take a deep look into each individual exhibit," said Perrin when questioned by a commissioner on Thursday.

During a special meeting of the board of police commissioners, the force answered tough questions about what this audit means and why the board wasn't informed of its existence before media made it public.

The Halifax Regional Police are double-checking that no cases were affected by the loss or theft of exhibits from the evidence vaults at police headquarters. Despite Supt. Jim Perrin's assertion last week during a news conference that he "would have heard" if missing evidence had affected a case, there is now a four-person task force in place to comb the vaults in search of the 70 missing exhibits. 

"We won't know what is affected until we take a deep look into each individual exhibit," said Perrin when questioned by a commissioner on Thursday. During a special meeting of the board of police commissioners, the force answered tough questions about what this audit means and why the board wasn't informed of its existence before media made it public. 

"Supt. Perrin first ordered (the) audit to review whether . . . current infrastructure meets the current police obligations," said Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais. Despite a review that began in June 2015 after a May investigation that led to an officer being charged for stealing evidence, the chief didn't tell board chair Russell Walker about the audit until the night before it went public. 

He, in turn, didn't tell any of the other members. "What test does the Halifax Regional Police use to decide whether this board should be brought into the loop?" asked commissioner Jeff Mitchell, visibly agitated. "I found out along with the public essentially … I'm confused, and I'm not sure I should find these things out due to a FOIPOP request (by media)." The freedom of information request was submitted by The Coast in January, and a draft copy from September 2015 was released. 

They published a story last week detailing the audit findings. The original audit showed 90 per cent of drug exhibits and half the cash were not where they were supposed to be in police vaults. Those numbers were updated last month, when the police reported 52 per cent of the drugs were still missing, as well as 32 per cent of the money. 

Coun. Steve Craig questioned whether chairman Walker should be counted on to provide the whole board information. "I don't know if he should be the funnel of information," said Craig. "I have the expectation of being informed without surprises. We have the role of sitting here on behalf of our citizens." 

Those in the room agreed that the board wanted to know information sooner, regardless of whether if was in draft form or not. "I don't need a finished review. I don't mind unpolished," said commissioner Mitchell. "I just want to know what's going on." A motion was made and passed during the meeting for the Halifax Regional Police to bring all audits and reviews, both ongoing and completed from the past decade, to the commission for review. Deputy Chief Bill Moore said the last review of the drug exhibits was in 2007, and didn't recall the scope of that audit. "What we are seeing this time is inappropriate use of computer systems tracking," he said.

 "We use Versadex to input data for our exhibits, and we need to ensure that our staff can use it." "We haven't jumped in with both feet and said we want Versadex 100 per cent. We need training and policies around it." Commissioners criticized the circumstances, repeatedly called a "personnel issue," that led to the audit in the first place. "I feel this is coming as a response to something as opposed to this being … just the way we do things," said commissioner Sylvia Parris. 

Commissioner Craig also said it was "unfortunate" the audit only came after discovering officer misconduct. Const. Laurence Gary Basso was charged with theft, breach of trust and obstruction of justice for the alleged theft of 700 grams of lidocaine from evidence. 

Both Supt. Jim Perrin and Chief Blais have repeatedly called these mistakes "reporting issues" and clerical errors. However, Commissioner Adams wondered how the system was so counter-intuitive. "How difficult is it to input information correctly? Apparently it's pretty hard," he said. "This is no different than, in my opinion, working at Sobeys. You input things. You put the apples with the apples. We have really fallen short here." Russell Walker told media after the meeting he hoped everyone got their feelings and concerns heard. "If (our questions) weren't satisfied, we'd still be at the table," he said. "I will be meeting with the chief … to change the way we're going to (be) informed and move forward." Walker confirmed the board was more concerned with being informed than the audits results. 

"We could have been in the loop in camera. We are for oversight of the police and RCMP, and we should be in the loop." Chief Blais said he got a chance to show the board exactly what was in the audit, and allowed communication. 

"Obviously there's some frustration … surrounding the roles and responsibilities of the board, and I can't say I blame them," he said. "I think … what they're looking for is more robust information. We can address it in the future and make sure they get information in a more timely manner. He says there are three civilians and four officers looking for the missing exhibits. "Once they complete their findings I can report to the board and present our findings," he said.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1376747-police-backtrack-on-statements-that-no-cases-have-been-affected

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