Pilot study of method to review closed organized crime files

3. FINDINGS OF THE SITE VISITS

The visits to the six regional offices took place between mid-June and the end of July of 2003. The duration of the visits was three or four working days, depending on the number of organized crime files available for review. With the exception of Ottawa-Gatineau, where some files were stored at Justice Headquarters, the files were reviewed in the regional offices. In some cases, the files were stored on-site. In others, they were retrieved from off-site storage facilities.

Across the six sites, a total of 114 files were identified by the regional offices as organized crime files, for an average of 19 files per office. During the site visits, a total of 85 files were reviewed, for an average of 14 files reviewed per site. Those 29 files identified but not reviewed were either incomplete or still active. The average amount of time taken to review each of the files was 82 minutes, with a range of 20-240 minutes.

As noted above, one of the key objectives of the site visits was to assess the ease or difficulty of extracting information from these files. In order to facilitate and structure the file reviews, a data collection instrument (Appendix A) was developed and pre-tested.

A. AVAILABILITY OF INDIVIDUAL DATA ITEMS

The specific types of information collected in the file review, and our findings as to their availability are summarized in the chart below. Note that the three ratings: rarely, sometimes and readily available reflect both the quantitative aspect addressing the frequency of being able to locate the information, as well as the qualitative aspect of the file review in terms of how much effort was required to find the information and how confident we were in its accuracy. For example, among the 85 files reviewed, the variable "date investigation started" was recorded 69 times. However, the date was frequently qualified as 'possible' or 'earliest date on file' or as a date on an early document; therefore, while some date was recorded, the validity of that date as the true start of investigation was often unknown. Furthermore, both reviewers found that it took considerable time to peruse documents to even identify these potential dates. In such cases, where the information sought was located for the majority of files, but the effort and time involved was extensive, the rating "sometimes available" has been used as these data were not 'readily' available.

For the availability of key documents in the files reviewed, please see Table 3.1 in Chapter III below.

Table 2.1

With respect to this last data category, it should be noted that several provincial automated court administration systems record case outcomes in detail. Only in the Edmonton office were data from the provincial system available in the FPS paper files. Given the potential value of outcome information for both research and evaluation purposes, as well as performance measurement, it may be worthwhile for the regional offices to establish links with these systems to acquire outcome data on an ongoing basis for inclusion in both the paper files and CASEVIEW.

B. OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF SITE VISITS

1. Access to the files

For the most part, the files identified by the regional offices met the basic criterion of having been closed prior to the time of the site visit. However, a number turned out to be still active for one reason or another (subject to appeal, linked to another continuing prosecution, not yet closed for administrative reasons). In many instances, these still-active files were in the offices of individual prosecutors or in temporary storage locations, making them difficult to access. In any future Phase 2 of this project, it will be important to select for review only files which are clearly closed.

2. File organization

In general, the ease of information retrieval from the files at the sites varied considerably, depending on the local practices with respect to file organization and archiving. Even within individual offices, practices varied from prosecutor to prosecutor. Some files were complete in the sense that they contained all of the key documents related to a prosecution. Others contained only partial information; reference to other linked files (if any) was necessary to locate the information we were seeking. In the some cases, important parts of files could not be located despite the efforts of administrative staff of the offices.

In most locations, approximately 80-85% of the information we were seeking in large files could be found in the covering folders without recourse to the boxes. This process was greatly facilitated by the presence of file indexes which listed the contents of individual folders and boxes. Access to these lists enabled a more focused and efficient search of the boxed materials. For some offices, file indexes were sent to us in advance of our site visits so that we could identify which boxes we required and save the office the effort and expense of retrieving boxes which would not be opened.

3. Facilities and support

All of the regional offices visited for this project were able to provide our reviewers with comfortable and convenient workspace on-site. Generally, the files to be reviewed were immediately accessible and well labelled. Support provided by office staff was uniformly helpful.

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