Right to Know Week, Day 2: Opening up the police blotter

For no good reason, Canadian police departments are much more secretive than their American counterparts.

I'm writing this blog post somewhat expecting to be called out as the ugly American immigrant. Perhaps I am, but I hope readers will at least hear me out before throwing the CFA insults my way.

Earlier this year, I started giving the Halifax police department some grief on Twitter for what struck me as their overly secretive manner. See, on a daily basis we journalists get a "Watch Commander's Report" from the PD, which typically reports nothing at all. Yesterday's Watch Commander's report, for example, reads in its entirety: "Halifax Regional Police responded to 192 calls for service during today's shift, there were no calls of note to report." Sometimes the report will list one or two "notable incidents"; today's report is as follows:

Good morning the Halifax Regional Police responded to 125 calls for service last night with the following call of note.

Robbery, West Division:
GO 11-148129

At 11:00 pm west members responded to a report of a robbery that had occurred 10 minutes prior in the area of Lacewood Drive and Glenforest Drive. The victim, a 19 year old Halifax man, walked home and contacted the police. He reported walking along Lacewood and Glenforest drive at approximately 10:50 pm when he was approached by 2 black males who punched him in the face and had stolen his cell phone. One of the males was holding a knife during the incident. The suspects were last observed fleeing westbound along Glenforest drive.

The suspects are described as 16-17 years old; one wore a dark hoodie with the hood up and wore a black backpack. The other male who held the knife wore a dark tank top and zip up sweater, dark pants, shaved head and a chubby build. The victim received a bloody nose during the incident. There are no suspects at this time.

SGT. Greg Robertson 0165

The way that single incident is reported is fairly informative, and will likely lead to some news stories in tomorrow's dailies. I don't have a problem with it in the least (I'll save commentary about police reporting on race for another time, but for the record, I think this report is fine on that front.)

I do, however, have a big problem with the number of incident reports given to the press/public. See, in every American city-- from podunk Searcy, Arkansas, population 10,000 (my last job) to New York City, population one gazillion, the entire police blotter---with each and every police call---is made available. The equivalent here in Halifax would be that 192 police calls would have been detailed yesterday, and 125 today.

In the states, every cub reporter has to do a stint on the police blotter-- I’ve done this in several cities; on my way to work, I’d stop by the police department, and the blotter was usually at a desk off in a corner somewhere, usually next to a copy machine. I’d drop in a few dimes, copy the whole thing and take it to the office. At some papers, we just printed the whole thing; at others, we’d select a few of the more interesting ones and write short pieces on them.

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