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VicPD issues warning after another police notebook ends up in hands of 'criminal element'

It’s the second time in a little over a year that an officer’s notebook with personal information has been lost
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The notebook “was in the temporary possession of the criminal element of Greater Victoria,” says a letter by VicPD to those affected by the privacy breach. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria police are warning people whose personal information was in an officer’s notebook that was lost for eight days last month that they should consider staying in a secondary location, locking their doors and being mindful of their surroundings.

The notebook “was in the temporary possession of the criminal element of Greater Victoria,” says a letter from the Victoria Police Department to those affected by the privacy breach.

The breach occurred on Feb. 14 and the department became aware of it on Feb. 20, the letter says. Names, addresses and vehicle information were included in the notebook.

VicPD suggests those affected by the breach consider allowing police to flag their addresses with a “hazard flag” to alert 911 operators and police of a possible threat at the residence if they call police.

It’s the second time in a little over a year that an officer’s notebook with personal information has been lost. In February 2023, VicPD said an officer’s notebook that contained the names of about 60 people related to police activity or investigations was lost in December 2022.

The notebook was recovered after going missing for five days, but the contents were copied and circulated among the region’s “criminal element,” and department leadership was not aware it had gone missing until February, VicPD said at the time. Information in the notebook was allegedly used to conduct a criminal offence in Saanich, the department said.

Donald McKay, a criminal defence lawyer in Victoria, said a client was notified Monday of the lost notebook containing her information. Her information was also in the notebook that was lost in December 2022, he said.

Shortly after the first notebook was lost, she was the victim of a home invasion that was believed to be linked to the notebook, McKay said. “Twice in two years seems to be absurd, quite frankly. And it raises the question of whether or not this is a frequent occurrence and it’s only come to light because she happened to be involved in two circumstances,” he said.

His client, who does not want to be named, told McKay she is safe and taking precautions.

Lawyer P.G. Kent, whose client’s information was also in the most recent lost notebook, is considering bringing a class-action lawsuit against VicPD. The information in the notebook is private and should have been safeguarded, he said. “You can imagine the fear that this letter would instill in someone receiving it,” Kent said.

Those affected don’t know what is in the notebook or who had access to it, causing anxiety, he said.

VicPD has notified the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of the breach and says in the letter it is reviewing its policies to prevent a similar incident in the future.

Victoria police spokesperson Cheryl Major told the Times Colonist the latest lost notebook is the only one that’s been misplaced since the December 2022 incident, adding it’s not a common occurrence.

“We understand that any breach of privacy is concerning and we apologize. We have conducted a risk assessment, and have no reason to believe there is risk to any person whose information appeared in this notebook,” she said.

The department will work with any affected individual who wants to create a safety plan, she said.

VicPD updated its notebook policy in April 2023 and officers are required to report a lost, found or damaged notebook to a supervisor “as soon as practicable,” Major said.

In the most recent case, the officer notified superiors as soon as they realized the notebook was missing, she said.

The department recognizes that such incidents could be mitigated with technology and is looking for a digital alternative to paper notebooks to reduce the risk of a lost notebook in the future, Major said.

After the December 2022 incident, VicPD informed the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and asked it to order an external investigation.

The officer who lost his notebook and did not report it was found guilty of misconduct and given a verbal reprimand as a result of the OPCC investigation, Major said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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