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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Recovered police notebook raises questions about VicPD policy

Police say VicPD officers are required to report lost notebooks, but it's unclear if policies were updated after 2019 OPCC recommendations

By Michael John Lo
February 17, 2023
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Recovered police notebook raises questions about VicPD policy

Police say VicPD officers are required to report lost notebooks, but it's unclear if policies were updated after 2019 OPCC recommendations

By Michael John Lo
Feb 17, 2023
The Victoria Police Department revealed that information in an officer’s lost notebook may have played a part in a crime that took place in Saanich. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
The Victoria Police Department revealed that information in an officer’s lost notebook may have played a part in a crime that took place in Saanich. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Policing
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Recovered police notebook raises questions about VicPD policy

Police say VicPD officers are required to report lost notebooks, but it's unclear if policies were updated after 2019 OPCC recommendations

By Michael John Lo
February 17, 2023
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Recovered police notebook raises questions about VicPD policy
The Victoria Police Department revealed that information in an officer’s lost notebook may have played a part in a crime that took place in Saanich. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

On Thursday, the Victoria Police Department revealed that information in an officer’s lost notebook may have played a part in an alleged crime that took place in Saanich.

The notebook had been left at the scene of an Emergency Response Team operation, an officer told Capital Daily, speaking on the condition of anonymity. A civilian turned it in, they added.

Officers are required to report lost or damaged notebooks to a supervisor “as soon as practicable,” said VicPD spokesperson Terri Healy in an emailed response to questions about VicPD’s policy on officer notebooks. The notebook, which was lost in December, wasn’t reported for two months.

Police use notebooks to document all significant activities, including arrests and interviews conducted in the field. A notebook is an important policing tool, as its content can be used in court.

While a few police departments are making the leap towards digital note keeping, most are still holding on to pen and paper, a policing tradition that traces back more than 150 years.

Officer notebook policies vary across Canada. VicPD’s notebook policy, instituted in 1994, was last up for an update in 2017 with a recommendation from VicPD’s senior command team to allow for notebooks to be stored offsite by a private records management company.

In 2019, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner of BC (OPCC) investigated Victoria police officer Cst. Douglas Hanbury for complaints related to a 2018 police dog bite incident. Cst. Hanbury was found to have neglected his duty as a police officer for taking inadequate notes about the incident and tearing out several pages from his officer’s notebook.

As a result, the OPCC report suggested four note keeping practices be added to VicPD’s notebook policy, including one that would see officers responsible for reporting lost, damaged or destroyed notebooks to their supervisor.  

The note keeping recommendations provided by OPCC are in line with best practices for note keeping in police services in Canada as well as across the British Commonwealth, said Rob Gordon, a professor emeritus of criminology from Simon Fraser University.

But none of those note keeping recommendations have gone to the police board, a crucial step in approving changes to VicPD policy.

Victoria police did not provide access to a copy of the policy manual by time of publication, but told Capital Daily that its current policy mandates officers report lost notebooks.

A copy of a proposed update to VicPD’s notebook policy from a police board meeting in 2017 shows no existing written protocols regarding the loss of an officer’s notebook. There can sometimes be differences between written policy and actual practice in police departments, Gordon said.

“Policy can be pretty flat—it tells you very little,” he said. “It’s the practice that you have to get to.”

The contents of the officer’s notebook lost in December had been copied and were being circulated among unspecified “criminal elements,” VicPD said in the press release Thursday. The lost notebook contained 60 names and 50 addresses within Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich, and the Westshore related to police investigations or actions. But none of the names or addresses belonged to witnesses or victims, police said.

“The significant breach of privacy that has occurred is unacceptable and on behalf of VicPD, I apologize to everyone impacted,” VicPD Chief Del Manak was quoted in the press release.

Senior police leadership were unaware of the loss until last week, according to reporting by the Times Colonist.

“It’s not a notebook that has a shopping list in it,” said Gordon. “Police officers are fairly well drilled in the importance of those notebooks and notebook entries.”

Gordon, who is also a former police officer, has seen criminal cases that have fallen apart due to lost or stolen officer notebooks. Information in that lost notebook could now be used by others for purposes other than law enforcement, he added.

VicPD is asking the OPCC for an external review and would not provide further details about the incident, citing pending investigations.

With files from Tori Marlan.

contact@capitaldaily.ca

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