WATCH: Canadian Police Association president describes potential problems when the country’s only national law enforcement networking system is underfunded and out of date.
OTTAWA —Funding for a key federal criminal database is dropping this year, posing risks to public safety and police officers, critics say.
“It’s incredibly important that the funding is there and the administration of the database is meeting expectations,” said Tom Stamatakis, national president of the Canadian Police Association. “It’s important for not only police officers so they can be effective in their communities, but also from a public safety perspective.”
The Canadian Police Information Centre database, known as CPIC, is a networking tool intended to allow federal, provincial and municipal police and courts to check a suspect’s criminal history —but a years-long backlog and decreased funding is leaving some front-line law enforcement in the lurch.
If the information is not absolutely accurate and completely up to date, then the system is flawed.
– Liberal critic Wayne Easter
CPIC houses a wide collection of databases including records relating to wanted and missing people, criminal records, stolen property, and terms and conditions of parolees and people on probation; all of those records provide vital details when working to ensure public safety in a community, Stamatakis said.
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“You could have somebody who’s on some type of parole, moving from community to community,” he said, illustrating the potential dangers of a mismanaged database. “If that person has contact with the police and the police check the database to find out the person’s status but the information isn’t there, you could potentially release someone who should be arrested for breaching parole conditions.”
CPIC is the only national law enforcement system of its kind, and the RCMP has been responsible for maintaining the registry since it was launched in 1972.
The database is one of a handful of programs that fall under the RCMP’s budget line for Canadian law enforcement services, which has dropped 26 per cent, to $177.9 million in 2015-16 from $241.1 million in 2014-15, according to the federal government’s main estimates.
It’s absolutely outrageous to me that police are being asked to do dangerous jobs with incomplete information.
-NDP critic Randall Garrison
The police force told Global News this drop was because the criminal intelligence unit was moved to another budget line, but not because “of a reduction in funding levels with the Canadian law enforcement services, such as CPIC.”
While the shift accounts for a bulk of the decrease, CPIC’s funding dropped from $6.5 million to $5.9 million this year, marking a nearly 10 per cent decrease. The RCMP says the cut is on account of “efficiencies garnered” through an automated system.
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“This change does not impact the direct operations of CPIC,” an RCMP spokesperson wrote in an email response to Global News.
But there’s no question the system is flawed, said Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter.
“On a police information system, if the information is not absolutely accurate and completely up to date, then the system is flawed,” he said.
“And clearly, doing cutbacks to a system when we already know there are backlogs, is a wrong-headed direction to take because it does affect public safety.”
The official Opposition critic, New Democrat Randall Garrison, however, pointed out the dangers of a mismanaged policing database extend beyond the members of the community.
“It’s absolutely outrageous to me that police are being asked to do dangerous jobs with incomplete information,” he said. “What does this say about the safety of the people who work every day trying to keep the rest of us safe?”
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, whose department oversees the RCMP, said he has been assured the national police force has sufficient resources to meet the needs of Canada’s law enforcement officials. In the meantime, there is no threat to the safety of Canadians, he said.
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Ottawa has earmarked more than $180 million to help modernize the criminal records system that is part of CPIC since the federal auditor general first flagged the risks of the backlog six years ago, the RCMP said.
This modernization has been slowly taking place over the past few years, a spokesperson wrote in an email.
“When fully implemented, the new system will automate criminal record updates, minimizing delays and preventing future backlogs in the national repository,” Sgt. Julie Gagnon wrote.
The national police have years of data to input before the backlog is cleared. The RCMP has said that should happen by March 2017.
“I’m hopeful it’s up to speed long before that. It should be a priority for the RCMP even though they’re faced with many other challenges,” Stamatakis said, sympathetic to the expanding mandate of the national police force.
“It’s critical and we don’t have a choice but to rely on CPIC. I think the priority for all of us involved in policing in this country is to ensure that the maintenance of CPIC data is a priority not only for the RCMP, but the federal government.”