Halifax Regional Police want at least $40,000 in fees in order to hand over five years worth of data on people placed in their cells.

That’s part of the response to a request from the Halifax Examiner through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP).

There’s been heightened scrutiny of the cells at Halifax Regional Police (HRP) headquarters, which they typically refer to as their prisoner care facility, since two special constables — civilian booking officers — were found guilty of criminal negligence in the 2016 death of Corey Rogers.

Corey Rogers Credit: Contributed

Rogers, 41, died in police custody on June 16, 2016 after being arrested for public drunkenness outside a Halifax children’s hospital following the birth of his daughter. Police placed a spit hood — a mesh bag placed over someone’s head to keep them from spitting on officers — over Rogers’ head and put him in a cell.

Special constables Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner left him alone for more than two hours, and Rogers vomited into the spit hood and asphyxiated.

The Examiner was hoping to learn how many different people have been in those same cells, the so-called drunk tank, over the last few years, and who they are — their ages, genders and race, not their names. And we hoped to learn whether the police are still using spit hoods, and whether they’re using them more or less than in previous years.

The Examiner’s request:

Data on detentions pursuant to the Liquor Control Act between Jan. 1, 2016 and June 1, 2020, including the number of distinct individuals placed in the prisoner care facility annually, any and all demographic data on those individuals, and the number of incidents in which spit hoods were used.

From the response, we learned there have been more than 8,000 detentions in the cells since Jan. 1, 2016, but that doesn’t tell us how many different people have been detained or who they are, or whether those numbers are increasing or decreasing.

“The number of people released from cells in the time frame request under section 87 Liquor Control Act was 8645,” HRP FOIPOP coordinator Insp. Greg Robertson wrote in a letter responding to the request.

“Unfortunately, there is no way to unload the number of distinct individuals or demographic details without the person’s name, date of birth and address. In order to retrieve this information each of the 8645 files would have to be read through. This would require a fee for service due to the large number of records.”

The Examiner followed up, asking Robertson for an estimate of that fee.

In another letter, Robertson wrote: “Halifax Regional Police Crime Analysis Unit advised the search for your requested information would take approximately six (6) months or longer due to the high volume of records involved. The rate would be $30 / hour based on an eight (8) hour day.”

A letter from HRP FOIPOP coordinator Inspector Greg Robertson Credit: Zane Woodford

The Examiner followed up again, asking for a breakdown of the estimate and a grand total.

“The fee would be substantial and would require positioning a staff member to complete the work for several months,” Robertson wrote in an email.

“That’s the best estimate I can provide, at least several months work at $30 an hour.”

Asked again for a detailed estimate — common with requests for information from Halifax Regional Municipality and any provincial department — Robertson replied, “we have indicated the length of time is estimated at six months or longer, based on an 8 hour day, 7 days per week at $30.00 / hour.

“It is not an exact estimate as there is no previous similar request to refer to. At least you’re aware the request would be very time consuming and a substantial cost.”

The Municipal Government Act says, “Where an applicant is required to pay fees for services, the responsible officer shall give the applicant an estimate of the total fee before providing the services.”

But let’s add it up.

Six months is about 182 days. Eight hours a day at $30 an hour is $240 a day.

The total: $43,680.

Data needed for report on sobering centres

The data with the steep price tag are nearly the same that Halifax regional council asked for in February with a request for a staff report on sobering centres — an alternative to the drunk tank.

Sobering centres are a safe place for people to sleep it off.

Healthcare professionals on staff assess and monitor the intoxicated people, improving their health outcomes and keeping those people out of cells. There are examples of sobering centres in Alberta and British Columbia.

Harry Critchley, vice chair of the East Coast Prison Justice Society, presented that idea to the board of police commissioners and then regional council in January and February of this year.

Following his presentations, council passed a motion directing staff to conduct a feasibility study of sobering centres:

THAT Halifax Regional Council request a staff report to investigate the feasibility of implementing or supporting sobering centres and/or managed alcohol programs, and this report should include:

  1. Jurisdictional scan of other municipalities that have sobering centres and/or manage alcohol programs including Campbell River BC & Port [Alberni] BC models. This should also outline financial contributions or budgetary impacts directly to Police and overall budgets.
  2. Stakeholder engagement that includes service providers that support individuals who are experiencing homelessness and/or drug using population, such as Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH), Housing & Homelessness Partnership & Direction 180. Also including organizations that support African Nova Scotian, and Indigenous communities.
  3. Data that outlines the number of individuals that have been placed in public intoxication cells in HRM, repeat intakes (i.e., the number of placements annually vs. the number of unique individuals placed), number of deaths, serious injuries, or other investigations related to the care of detainees in HRP or RCMP detention, and demographic data (i.e., age, race, gender, etc. of individuals detained) if collected. [emphasis added]

That fact that the data isn’t more readily available to the public could mean staff haven’t started the report.

“It probably does speak to the fact that the report — which was originally slated to take six to eight months — has probably stalled or ceased entirely, in part because of COVID. It’s clearly fallen by the wayside,” Critchley said.

And if that data is somehow unattainable for city staff too, Critchley said the outcome of the report can’t be trusted.

Part of the rationale for sobering centres is that they can better intervene to get people help when they’re frequently being taken in for public intoxication, Critchley said.

Critchley said there are a number of “frequent flyers” — people known to police who habitually end up in the drunk tank. Corey Rogers was one.

If we can target those sorts of people through a diversionary program to keep them out of the drunk tank, then we’re likely to provide better long-term outcomes for those individuals. That whole premise is predicated on the availability of information to show there are such individuals. We all know that that’s the case. Police know that that’s the case.

John Burke is another example. Burke had been detained many times before he died in cells in 2013. Unbeknownst to booking officers in cells, Burke had hit his head before being arrested, according to the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team’s report into the incident. SIRT found the booking officers should’ve conducted better rousability checks, but did not find grounds for criminal charges.

There are also issues with record keeping that have had tragic results.

Peter LaFitte was detained in 2015 and hanged himself shortly after being put into his cell. LaFitte was detained again in 2016 and again tried to hang himself. This time, booking officers didn’t see LaFitte hang himself, and he was motionless for several minutes before they conducted their next check. He was left with permanent brain damage.

Those booking officers weren’t aware of the 2015 incident because, as SIRT wrote in its report into the incident, “No notations were made in police records about these actions … in 2015.” SIRT found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers in that case.

“Why is there not a more adequate record-keeping system in place?” Critchley asks.

“Why wouldn’t the police proactively push for these sort of record-keeping systems so there wouldn’t be more Peter LaFittes?”

But in this case, Critchley believes police actually do have the data:

Unless the drunk tank data is somehow kept in a filing cabinet, there is some sort of electronic database in place.

If the police can’t extract data from that database, he said they need to work with whatever company created it to make that easier to do.

“It’s a very easy way for them to put up a wall and basically say, ‘It’s impossible for us to give you this information,’ effectively,” he said. “But it’s probably incorrect.”

The Halifax Regional Police office in Dartmouth in July 2020. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Police still using spit hoods after 2016 death

The response to the Examiner’s FOIPOP response also included some limited information about spit hoods.

“From December 2019 to June 1, 2020, the number of spit hood [sic] used were eighteen (18),” Robertson wrote in the original letter.

“Information pertaining to the timeframe January 1, 2016 to November 30, 2019, files would have to be read through to search for this information. This would require a fee for service due to the large number of records.”

It’s unclear whether the above fee estimate would include those records.

Without having previous years to compare to, it’s impossible to gauge whether the police have used the hoods, designed to protect officers, more or less — just that they’ve used them 18 times since December.

One time is too many for Jeannette Rogers, Corey Rogers’ mother.

“That’s scary,” she said of the fact they’d been used 18 times since December.

“Unless they’ve had some training with them, then they shouldn’t be using them.”

Jeannette Rogers — Photo: Zane Woodford/Star Halifax Credit: Contributed

Rogers is in the process of appealing a disciplinary decision against the three police officers who arrested her son in June 2016 — constables Ryan Morris, Donna Lee Paris, and Justin Murphy. Those officers first placed the spit hood on Rogers’ son and brought him into cells.

“When I do the appeal of the decision against the arresting officers, one of the things I’m going to be asking them is what other equipment they use that they haven’t been trained for,” Rogers said.

There are instructions on the spit hoods themselves saying they shouldn’t be left on without supervision, and that still happened in Rogers’ case. None of the officers involved had read the instructions, they testified in court last year.

The appeal of the arresting officers’ disciplinary decision (they were all suspended for less than two weeks) is scheduled to be heard at a police review board hearing in November, Rogers said. The hearing was adjourned in April 2019 pending the outcome of the trial for the special constables, Fraser and Gardner.

Halifax Regional Police officers are shown standing around Corey Rogers, lying on the floor of the cells at HRP headquarters in footage shown in Nova Scotia Supreme Court during the criminal negligence trial of special constables Daniel Fraser and Cheryl Gardner. — Photo: Nova Scotia Supreme Court via Star Halifax Credit: Contributed

Though Fraser and Gardner were found guilty in December 2019, they’ve yet to be sentenced. Rogers said the sentencing is scheduled for later this month, more than four years after her son’s death.

In the meantime, Rogers has become a member of the East Coast Prison Justice Society as part of a working group on spit hoods.

“We want to get rid of the spit hoods altogether, because there’s really no need of them,” she said.

Critchley agrees, and said the pandemic has proven it.

“With the onset of COVID, we’ve realized that there are different devices that can be used to thwart disease transmission,” Critchley said, referring to masks and face shields.

The impetus behind using spit hoods is the same in the police headquarters context as it is in other settings, to avoid disease transmission. But it’s unclear why they’re continuing to use a device that’s so dehumanizing, so likely to cause anxiety and stress on the person who’s head it’s put on and which is already proven to have killed somebody.

Rogers has been following the movement to defund the police, and she believes a sobering centre could’ve helped her son. 

“If they defunded the police and used some of that money for a sobering centre then that wouldn’t have been an issue,” Rogers said.

Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella speaks to the board of police commissioners during a meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford

The Halifax Examiner asked for an interview with HRP Chief Dan Kinsella, hoping to ask about policy around spit hoods, the force’s record-keeping and the fee estimate.

“Unfortunately, Chief Kinsella is not available for an interview,” spokesperson Const. Dylan Jackman said in an email.

Jackman provided the following statement:

Following an updated spit hood policy issued in November 2019, spit hoods continue to be used in the PCF. The current policy:

  • Restricts the use of spit hood to members formally trained in their use.
  • Restricts the storage and use of spit hoods to the PCF.
  • Provides instructions on applying spit hoods.
  • Requires a person placed in a spit hood to be monitored at all times.
  • Requires spit hoods to be removed when a person is safely placed in a cell or restraint chair.
  • Requires the use of spit hoods to be documented in our record management system.

Additionally, as part of a broader evaluation of the PCF, over the past year a number of steps have been taken to increase supervision and safety in the PCF including:

  • Assigning a sergeant to supervise the PCF on a 24/7 basis
  • Requiring a trained supervisor to always be present when a spit hood is being applied
  • Requiring the sergeant assigned to the PCF to be present when a spit hood is applied to ensure that the spit hood is required and applied properly.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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1 Comment

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  1. The face shield available at the dollar store would be just as effective as a *spit hood* and decrease the chance of aspiration and death ( unless death is their intended outcome)
    As for the $40000 required to access that information what part about *freedom* don’t they get? I am sure a data geek could be contracted to collect the information for a lot less. For starters they could collect the data faster.