(902)9-1-1 Updated with interactive maps

Halifax Regional Police log about 130,000 calls a year, ranging from routine traffic stops to murders.

Students in the investigative journalism workshop at the University of King’s College asked for and obtained  a database of those calls using freedom of information legislation. They analyzed the data, searched for trends and crunched it to produce interactive online visualizations.

The result is (902)9-1-1, without a doubt the most comprehensive look at police response ever conducted by journalists in Nova Scotia.

Early on, we decided we would present a compelling mix of not only conventional text-based feature stories, but web-only content that would allow the audience–that’s you–to explore the story at its own pace.

On our launch day, we presented a multimedia tour of Pinecrest-Highfield Park, a neighbourhood struggling with crime and poverty. Our final major feature is our interactive maps that allow you to drill down to see call types and response times in your neighbourhood and on your street  (for technical reasons not all streets could be included).

To access these features, click on the tabs below.

Along with the  maps, additional tabs provide statistical information on what police do the most, and how much time they spend doing it. There are also tabs below linking to the other stories in this package, including the Pinecrest-Highfield Park tour.

To get started, click on one of the headers in the interactive slider below.

What's a call anyway?

Halifax Regional Police log on average about 130,000 calls a year, but not all calls are created equally.

A call can be generated by someone calling 911 or the police non-emergency line, or when someone walks into a police station. Police also log their own calls, such as when they make a traffic stop, or for administrative reasons.

The number of calls for life-threatening emergencies is actually quite small. Most calls logged are for relatively mundane or routine occurrences.

The police classify calls as priority 1, 2 or 3, with priority 1 being the most urgent and priority 3 the least.

Less than two per cent of calls, or just under 11,000 over the five years of data analyzed, were considered priority 1. Priority 2 calls represent another 21 per cent of the total. The remaining calls are priority 3.

A sophisticated system logs times related to a call. The time a call comes in to dispatchers is recorded automatically. When a call is dispatched, that time is also recorded. Officers push a button in their cruisers to capture both the en-route times and the time they arrive on scene. A time is also recorded for when the call is cleared.

The calls data show police typically get to priority 1 calls in about five minutes, to priority 2 in about 9 minutes and priority 3 in 18 minutes, all based on median total response time from when the call was received, or created, until officers are on the scene (the median is the value exactly in the middle of  a range. If there are 101 values from smallest to largest, the median is value 50.  In median response times, about half of all calls will be equal to or faster than the median, and half equal to or slower than the median). The response time interactive map provides median times for a range of call types.

The pie graph below shows you some of the most common types of police calls to which the Halifax Regional Police respond, as derived from the data. Click on the image to see a larger, clearer version.

Interactive map-What happens where?

This interactive Google map allows you to see which areas of town produce the largest numbers of calls for a variety of offences or incidents. Click on the map image to begin:


Interactive map-Response times

This interactive Google map allows you to see how long it takes police to get to different areas of town, for a variety of offences or incidents. Click on the map image to begin:



Interactive map-Calls to your street

This interactive Google map allows you to see how many times police have been to hundreds of different streets, for a selected group of call types.  Click on the map image to begin.


What takes police time?

The most serious of crime actually takes a fairly small proportion of the total time committed to calls for service, although the time spent per call for the most serious offences is much longer.

Police are, overall, busiest in the late evening and least busy in the hours near dawn.

For example, the police spend more time on murder/attempted murder calls than practically any other, with a murder call taking an average of 26 and a half hours from the time officers arrive on scene until the call is cleared.  At the other end of the seriousness scale, officers spent an average of about 11 minutes on each of more than 9,000 misdialed 9-1-1 calls. The number of misdialled 911 calls, which often come from cellphones, increased rapidly from 2006 to 2009, before dropping marginally in 2010.

The graph below shows how long in minutes, on average, police spend at various types of calls. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Stopping traffic

The single largest category of calls, traffic stops, accounted for 112,000 calls over the five years, or about 21 per cent of all dispatched calls, though only 11 per cent of the time spent on calls as the average time spent from arrival on the scene to the time a call was cleared, for a traffic stop call, was 33 minutes. Traffic stops peak in the late morning and late evening. The graphic below shows the number of calls over the entire five-year period, by hour, using the 24-hour clock. The graph below shows the number of calls over the entire five-year period, by hour, using the 24-hour clock. Click on the image to see a larger version.


The largest category of violent crimes is assaults, which not surprisingly, peak on the weekend and are least common in the first days of the work week. Assaults can happen any time of day, but are least common between about 3 and 11 in the morning.

The graph below shows the number of calls over the entire five-year period, by hour, using the 24-hour clock. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Rush hours

Police are, overall, busiest in the late evening and least busy in the hours near dawn.

The graph below shows the number of calls over the entire five-year period, by hour, using the 24-hour clock. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Read the other stories

(902)9-1-1 is the most comprehensive look yet at police call statistics by journalists in Nova Scotia.

Click here to explore a compelling multimedia feature on the neighbourhood of Pinecrest-Highfield Park, prepared by reporters Brittney Teasdale and Lily Sangster.  One of the poorest places in metro Halifax, the police are there a lot. In fact, the police patrol sub-zone (the police call it an atom) of E502 recorded seven per cent of all police calls for serious incidents over the five years of data from 2006 to 2010 that was examined by King's students.

We also tell the story of how the neighbourhood became what it is today, in Designed to Fail, written by Andrei Dezsi and Ezra Black. Shortsighted zoning decisions in the 1960s and ‘80s were the seeds of the area's struggles.

One of the most powerful stories is about subject that receives scant attention most of the time: suicide. It’s been in the news of late because of two suicides of young people attributed to bullying, but most of the time, silence reigns. The police calls data show that officers respond to an average of about three calls a day that go out over the radio as attempted suicides. About two a day stay on the books as suicide attempts, after officers have been to the scene. In a story written by Tim van der Kooi and Geoff Bird, you meet a family that has spent most of the last year struggling with one such death. Van der Kooi and Bird also explore the services available to families, and those struggling with mental illnesses. Experts say suicide and mental illness are closely linked.

How we did it

King's students requested the Halifax Regional Police calls database using a Freedom of Information request. Using database software, the students analyzed the data, looking for highlights and trends. Students were then assigned to follow up on data findings using interviews and documents. Mapping software was used to visualize the data, and the various pages were created and coded to produce the package you are looking at now.


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A silent scourge

North Star rowing coach Bob Sawler at the clubhouse where he learned of Patrick Convey's death. (Brittney Teasdale photo)

A note from the editor

Words by Geoff Bird and Tim van der Kooi

Reporting by King’s Investigative Workshop

The front hallway of the century-old house that is home to the North Star Rowing Club is adorned with photos of champions. The stills capture moments of triumph and pride in the lives of young athletes through the years.

Bob Sawler, head coach, points to his own picture, and that of his father. Farther along, he stops at a photo of a young man with a strong athlete’s build and dark hair, a rower who appears driven and focused.

The young man is Patrick Convey, who was named male athlete of the year by Sport Nova Scotia in 2007. He grins atop the podium after winning the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Sawler says as a coach, just like as a parent, you remember your athletes’ triumphs, when they stand up on that podium for the first time. You remember the tough times too.

“People say that I’m tough on the outside and soft on the inside.” Sawyer says, reflecting upon when he cried the time he saw Patrick win his first gold medal.

“I cried for him then, and I cried for him the day I heard he was gone.”

On June 10 last year, Sawyer was setting up the living room of the clubhouse for the club’s annual wine tasting event, a fundraiser for the club and its athletes.

Two of his board members were standing by a large open window overlooking Lake Banook in Dartmouth.

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The story of E502

Brittney Teasdale photo

E502 is the name of the police patrol sub-zone that encompasses Pinecrest-Highfield Park and adjacent neighbourhoods in North Dartmouth. From 2006 to 2010, seven per cent of all serious calls came from E502 , even though the area has about 3.5 per cent of the population of the Halifax Regional Police service area.

The neighbourhood is not only plagued by crime, but has some of the lowest incomes in metro, some of the highest rates of use of government assistance and large numbers of single-parent families, most headed by women. The numbers help tell the story, but E502 has another side. Men, women and young people who work to make the community a better place.

You can read about that in the accompanying piece in The Coast, and in a unique multimedia feature prepared by Brittney Teasdale and Lily Sangster.

To begin, click here or on the map image. You can explore the area using Google satellite view, then click on the (902)9-1-1 icons to see and hear the stories of a community that struggles, but has good stories to tell too. It’s a side of the “dark side” that you may not have seen before.

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Designed to fail

Words by Andrei Dezsi and Ezra Black

Reporting by King’s Investigative Workshop

Zoning allowed Pinecrest-Highfield Park to become a forest of apartment buildings.

Georgina Lee sits on a plastic chair at the Dartmouth North Community Centre on Highfield Park Drive in Dartmouth. Her hands are clasped on the table in front of her.

Lee is 52 and she moved to this neighbourhood 33 years ago, along with her infant son. It offered the cheapest rent she could find.

Over those years, she’s raised a child, held down a job and done it all as a single mom.

She’s seen a lot of change.

“At one time, in this neighborhood, you could walk the street at two, three, four o’clock in the morning and wouldn’t think twice about it,” she says. “But now you wouldn’t. By the time, nine, ten o’clock comes, you’re not outside… because of the things going on in the area.”

Indeed, Pinecrest-Highfield is now one of metro’s toughest and poorest places. Analysis of more than 650,000 calls for service to Halifax police, shows that while police sub-zone E502, which includes Pinecrest-Highfield, has about 3.5 per cent of the population of the three Halfax police patrol districts, it has about seven per cent of all the calls for service for serious incidents. Most of the crime is concentrated in the densely populated western half of the area making that area’s rate of calls even higher.

Pinecrest-Highfield is one of the most densely populated areas of metro, rivaling neighbourhoods closer to the urban core in Halifax, but lacking access to the multitude of services available to residents of the Peninsula. A tiny Sobey’s is the only local grocery store, and the neighbourhood library is no bigger than a large living room.

Census Tract 114, the Statistics Canada area that includes Pinecrest-Highfield Park has a high percentage of single parents, low incomes and high rates of use of government assistance. Many people live in shoddy housing.

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