Delays in updating vital criminal record information have increased significantly because of mismanagement and funding shortfalls for national police services, says the federal spending watchdog.
In a report tabled Thursday, interim auditor general John Wiersema said the failure to keep the national criminal record database current means police might lack timely access to critical logs “that could affect the safety and security of Canadians.”
Wiersema found the RCMP — which administers a slate of crucial police services — was scrambling to ensure enough money to keep them afloat.
His audit focused on four areas: a computerized system of fingerprint and criminal record data, forensic laboratory services, the national DNA data bank, and the federal criminal intelligence service.
Despite a commitment to do so, the RCMP has not taken satisfactory steps to improve police services by acting on recommendations in three previous audit reports dating from 2000, Wiersema concluded.
“The RCMP has difficulty in maintaining services as things stand,” Wiersema told a news conference.
“There are a number of fundamental issues that have to be resolved at the RCMP.
“The federal government, working with provincial, territorial and municipal partners, needs to decide which police services should be provided and how they should be delivered and funded.”
Backlogs and delays in updating criminal record information had increased to 14 months for English updates and to 36 months for French updates from five months in 2000, he found.
Overall, the outstanding criminal record update backlog had jumped to 1.4 million from 186,000 in 2005-06.
“I think that’s of serious concern,” Wiersema said.
In addition, technological updates to key national information systems have been delayed.
The RCMP has trimmed some programs to help fund the national police services.
The shuffling increased available monies for the services but other RCMP programs, mainly federal policing, were cut back.
In particular, the RCMP’s federal international operations directorate — which has responsibility for organized crime probes, border integrity, drug enforcement and money laundering — had to slash its budget by almost $48 million, or eight per cent, in the last fiscal year.
Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia said the complexity of investigating white-collar crime requires a great deal of resources.
“And this report makes me wonder if there are enough resources leftover for that kind of work?”
The RCMP spent about $194 million on the national police services last year, but received only $164 million in funding for them, said Peter Henschel, the force’s assistant commissioner for forensic science and identification services.
“That gap is growing, I would say,” he said in an interview.
The RCMP and the Public Safety Department, which oversees the police force, agreed with the auditor’s recommendations.
In a statement, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews s said he had asked the RCMP to work with his department on addressing the recommendations.