AJAs 2016 Finalists
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|Date Aired or Published||June 23, 2016|
|Media outlet where first aired or published:||The Coast|
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Short explanation of the story and how it developed:The "Continuity errors" cover feature was the result of a nearly year-long undertaking by The Coast's busy City Editor, Jacob Boon, to daylight a damning internal audit conducted by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) into its own evidence control system. The audit uncovered the shockingly high rate with which police lost track of drugs and money within their own headquarters. From the time the audit was completed in September, 2015 to the morning we published our cover story, no information about it was released to the civilian Board of Police Commissioners or to any defense counsels in Nova Scotia—an apparent violation of the Crown’s duty to disclose. The audit was made public as a direct result of our investigation, which is no small feat for a weekly newspaper with an editorial department of four. And the story's impact was substantial. Aside from the several follow-up stories Boon researched and wrote over the next few days, it was also followed-up by nearly every other media outlet in Halifax—all of them crediting The Coast for bringing the information to light. An emergency Board of Police Commissioners meeting was called for the following week, solely to discuss the audit’s findings. During that meeting, city councillors expressed their annoyance to have to find out about the evidence control problems from reading The Coast. The board then ordered a decade’s worth of audits to be released to the public. The publicity around the event also seems to have played a role in ongoing efforts by the Board of Commissioners to overhaul its role in civilian governance of the Halifax police department.
Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:The Coast is a small outlet, even by Atlantic Canadian standards. Out of our four-person editorial team, Jacob Boon is the only one who reports on and edits news items on city and police issues. He pursued this story outside of his regular weekly duties assigning freelance stories, writing blogs, editing weekly newspaper issues and covering city hall. Boon first learned an audit was being conducted in the summer of 2015. For the next several months he periodically checked in on its status and asked when he could view a copy of what he was assured it would be a public document. His efforts were met with delays, unanswered emails and excuses that it needed “further review” before it could be seen by the media. In the winter of 2016, a source informed The Coast that the completed audit had already been released under a Freedom of Information request to a third party. Boon went back to the police asking for a copy of that completed FOI package. With the knowledge that a national television news station was also pursuing the story, we chose to scrap our planned cover feature for that week’s issue just 48 hours before publication and go with the evidence control story. Boon spent the next 36 hours working virtually non-stop (save a few hours sleep) to interview legal experts, the police department and former officers to bring the story together.