Jason Miller (The Intelligencer) – Despite loud complaints from a Belleville judge and Crown attorney, a serious backlog in criminal records keeping on a national scale will remain mired for some time, says the RCMP.
The Mounties are tasked with updating and maintaining the Canadian Police Information Centre. But a spokesman for the national police agency says there is a backlog of a staggering 430,000 unfiled criminal records in the system with more piling in every day.
The backlog accounts for about 10 per cent of the RCMP’s complete criminal record file of 4.3 million records. It’s become and increasingly thorny issue for judges like Justice Stephen Hunter, who complained recently he struggles to draft appropriate sentences for convicted criminal with gaps in their criminal history files.
The ongoing glitches, are also worrying for Carole Gaudes, acting officer of criminal records management services for the RCMP at the Ottawa-based RCMP headquarters.
“That is something that we’ve been dealing with for a while here,” Gaudes said. “We do have an extensive backlog of criminal records that are not up-to-date.”
A portion of those backlogs have accumulated from French-speaking jurisdictions as the RCMP struggles to find bilingual staff to manage those criminal filings, she said, and the list of challenges doesn’t end there.
“The other roadblock is that we’re dealing with other jurisdictions as well,” she said. “The systems that the courts are using aren’t all consistent either.”
A frustrated Judge Hunter said last week, during a manslaughter sentencing, that portions of the offender’s violent past, dating back eight years, had mysteriously vanished from the RCMP -managed computer log.
Gaudes was baffled by the eight-year gap. She said, normally, records are backed up by about six years or less.
“Eight years would probably be the exception,” Gaudes said.
Judges rely heavily on the past criminal history of convicted individuals when meting out sentences for offences with similar characteristics. Local information is sent to the RCMP for inclusion on the national record base, but there’s no guarantee when it will be uploaded.
Hunter has expressed, on numerous occasions, that criminals could potentially evade more serious, but much-deserved, sentences because outstanding charges and convictions aren’t being recorded on the CPIC network in a timely fashion.
When there are lapses in entries, the broken system can prove crippling to a judge’s ability to draft an appropriate sentence with all factors considered, including the accused’s criminal record.
Problem is, said Gaudes, many convictions filed by the courts are still done in paper form, creating logistical headaches for RCMP staff, who have to manually inject about 365,000 new convictions, yearly, to the criminal record-keeping databank. That’s creating quite a dilemma for Gaudes and her team.
“We do not have any means to record the depositions electronically,” she said. “The information coming from the courts is all written down.”
The retention of competent entry level staff, including bilingual analysts to sort the records, is also another hurdle. Many acquire promotions and move from the records processing section within months of hire.
“It’s a revolving door,” she said.
With a dwindling staff of about 60 record analysts overseeing the overburdened system, plans are already underway to simplify their work with an automated Canada-wide real-time identification filing system. A similar setup is currently used by law enforcement agencies to register charges to CPIC.
“Those get done very quickly, but the actual filing of criminal records is still a highly manual process,” she said.
Modifications were implemented this spring to encourage prosecutors and police who file a records request to specify the exact files required, so that complete records can be provided for court purposes. That request would prompt staff to immediately update the record of the accused to provide accurate information, Gaudes said.
“It’s not mandatory, but it is in their best interest,” she said. “Faced with a large backlog like this, we don’t always know which records are of relevance.”
Plans are in motion to seek government funding for what Gaudes predicts will be a multi-million dollar automated solution for the congested log. Another treasury board submission for funding is in the works for 2013.
That funding could be hard to get, considering the fiscal constraints facing Ottawa.
“We’re not in any kind of position to have any additional funding for hiring, so we have to look from within to modernize our business process,” Gaudes said.