A sample review of 217 RCMP notebooks from across the country found some with missing pages, improper handwritten corrections and no indication that supervising officers had routinely inspected them, as required.
And there's still no clear policy on whether RCMP officers can take their notebooks home with them when they leave the force or retire — a continuing problem that has negatively affected criminal cases in the past.
The findings are in an internal audit, completed in July, which followed up on reviews by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in 2005 and 2011 that repeatedly cited poor notebook maintenance by various police forces, including the Mounties.
"Notebooks did not always have all of the core components required by policy, and supervisory review of notebooks was not occurring as required," concludes the audit, which has several sections censored over security concerns.
The report recommends the RCMP toughen and enforce its rules for notebooks — similar to recommendations in other reviews over the last 10 years.
Missing notes hurt trials
The "most significant issue at this time is the storage and handling of notebooks by members post-employment," said auditors, referring largely to retired officers who keep a lifetime of notebooks in attics and basements.
Missing notebooks have damaged court trials. In 2010, for example, a retired RCMP officer in Manitoba burned all of his notebooks — covering 32 years' of police work — including notes that may have been relevant to a careless-driving case. The Crown prosecutor dropped the charges on learning about the destroyed material.
Garry Clement, a retired Mountie who in 2009 started a consulting firm near Colborne, Ont., said members leaving the force routinely kept their notebooks, even though they are technically government property.
"As a retired member, I can state I retained my notebooks, which was the norm in recent memory," he said, referring to dozens of RCMP notebooks from 1973 to 2003.
"As a result of maintaining control, I was able to produce evidence for a 1978 cold case which likely would have not been available had I not maintained custody."
A 200-page notebook used by an RCMP officer for undercover operations related to a 2007 gangland slaying in Surrey, B.C., went missing for years after the officer left the force. It was eventually located at his ex-wife's home and returned last year.
Other cases have involved deliberately falsifying notes, such as a double-homicide investigation in 2007, in Saint Lazare, Man., in which a forensics constable kept two notebooks on the same incident, one of them smeared with red paint to imitate blood.
RCMP officers are generally required to create an electronic report within 24 hours after jotting handwritten notes in their notebooks. The auditors found instances where the electronic version was created 72 hours later, which can create evidence problems in courts.
No handwritten version
In other instances, no handwritten version existed, merely the electronic version, which some judges will not allow officers to use to refresh their memories for testimony.
Most of the 217 notebooks the auditors examined at 16 detachments showed no evidence that a supervisor had regularly inspected them, an RCMP requirement since 2011 that most supervisors who were interviewed acknowledged they did not follow.
"As a manager, I did require notebooks to be reviewed, but I know this did not occur throughout the organization," Clement said of his three decades with the Mounties.
"According to many [defence] lawyers, cases are won because officers do not know how to articulate their evidence, including proper note-taking."
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Janice Armstrong told the auditors the Mounties will clean up their policies and procedures by mid-January, though clear protocols on what to do about notebooks after retirement or post-employment will have to wait for wider consultation.
The audit did not examine notebooks that contained confidential police sources, though some court cases have raised the issue of retired members' notebooks containing such sensitive information.
Follow @DeanBeeby on TwitterSuggest a correction