Halifax police still can't account for hundreds of drug exhibits

The Halifax Regional Police officer in charge of an audit of evidence lockers says the items were most likely misplaced or mislabelled, and he's confident none were misappropriated.

HRP Supt. Jim Perrin said items likely misplaced or mislabelled, not misappropriated

Halifax Regional Police headquarters. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax Regional Police admit there are still hundreds of drug exhibits that remain unaccounted for following a detailed audit of evidence lockers at police headquarters.

A final report on the audit was presented Monday to the Board of Police Commissioners, the civilian oversight body for the police force.

The report found that of the 293 missing or misplaced cash exhibits, 255 were located. Of the 310 missing or misplaced large drug exhibits, only 68 were located. And just 140 of the 2,628 missing or misplaced small drug exhibits were located.

Supt. Jim Perrin, the officer in charge of the audit, said he's confident none of the items were misappropriated, and it's most likely they were mislabelled or misplaced. In the case of the cash exhibits, he said money was deposited without a record of which case it was connected.

"At no time through this process do we believe that anything was misappropriated by anybody," Perrin told reporters outside the meeting. "If we had come across that, we would have dealt with it, we would have taken that very seriously."

Supt. Jim Perrin. (Robert Short/CBC)

The problem first came to light in May 2015 when a police officer, Gary Basso, was charged with removing material from a drug evidence locker.

While the charges against Basso were eventually stayed, a June 2016 audit revealed the scope of the problem involving missing drugs and cash.

Perrin said said a lot of defence lawyers reached out after news of the audit broke to see if the missing evidence might help their clients.

"I think anytime something goes awry in policing, sure, your reputation can take a hit," Perrin said.

"It's obviously very topical and people want to talk about it. But I've also said before that we're humans, we're people that are doing these processes from time to time, there's going to be mistakes."

'This has not been comfortable'

Perrin said new audit procedures and new training have been put in place to ensure everyone handling evidence appreciates the need to be meticulous about documenting and accounting it.

"This has not been comfortable for anyone involved," said Steve Craig, a municipal councillor and chair of the Board of Police Commissioners. "And guess what? It shouldn't be comfortable."

Police Chief Jean Michel Blais assured commissioners that "we have been confident for the last six months that our processes are very, very tight."

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Blair Rhodes

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Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety.