Halifax police chief 'very confident' drugs and cash were miscatalogued by officers
Police conducting full audit of all drug-related exhibits, unable to account for about $27K in cash
Halifax police chief Jean-Michel Blais says he's confident that thousands of dollars in cash and large quantities of drugs were miscatalogued — not misappropriated by officers.
Police are conducting a full audit of all their drug-related exhibits, and so far have been unable to account for cash items worth about $27,000 as well as an unspecified number of drugs and other items.
Some of those drugs include 1,540 marijuana plants, 14,000 grams of marijuana, 4,000 grams of hash and 1,300 grams of cocaine.
"We're very confident that our officers did not do anything untoward," Blais said Monday.
"What we are looking at and what we have determined is that there are some gaps in our process, in our policy, in the way that we've done things. We want to maintain the confidence of the public and we will work very hard to do that," he said.
Full audit needed
In an earlier drug exhibit audit of 74 items conducted in 2015-2016, police found roughly half of the items couldn't be accounted for conclusively.
The audit revealed problems with the system police used to track the location of drug exhibits.
In many cases, officers were not entering information correctly into the computer system, or not updating the information when an exhibit was moved or destroyed.
The amalgamation of the Halifax, Dartmouth, and Bedford police departments further complicated matters, as did a changeover of police computer systems in 2005.
The documentation problems were so extensive, the police department chose to do a full inventory between September 2016 and February 2017.
Track and reconcile
The inventory compared the force's electronic records with 9,792 exhibits in its possession. It found approximately 3,000 exhibits couldn't be accounted for, including cash items worth about $100,000.
At that point, the department began to track and reconcile the 3,000 missing exhibits, beginning with the cash.
To date, police have accounted for about $73,000 in cash items, leaving a total value of $27,000 still outstanding.
Blais blamed human error, poor record-keeping and past procedures for the missing exhibits, and said they will continue to audit the items until they are all accounted for.
"My full expectation is that every day that goes by, there are more exhibits — not just money — that are being reconciled, and we're able to determine exactly where they are, where they've been going," Blais said.
A drug custodian will be hired to help in the tracking process and to make sure future exhibits are catalogued properly.
Years to finish?
The police chief committed to giving monthly updates to the board of police commissioners, public and media on the progress of tracking down the missing items.
He was unable to say how long it would take to complete the audit of the missing items, and suggested it could take a few years to wrap up the full audit.
The chair of the board of police commissioners, Halifax councillor Steve Craig, said he had questions about the timeline to complete the work.
Craig said he believes a reasonable time for the full audit would be about 18 months: to be able to understand the issue, correct it and conclude it.
"Unless when the people involved can come back and say 'well, really we can do it in a shorter period of time or it's going to take a longer period of time and this is why," he said.
In the meantime, Blais said the police are taking measures to improve exhibit tracking and better secure drug evidence.
"We are bringing about the necessary work to tighten up our processes, we have done so in the past year and we will continue to do so in the next year," Blais said.
In a joint Halifax Regional Police-RCMP statement issued later Monday, police said they've taken several step to address the gaps outlined in the audit.