Canada's National Database Of Criminal Records Will Take Years To Complete
The RCMP says it will now need until 2020 to finish uploading nearly half-a-million backlogged files to a nationwide criminal-record database, despite previously saying the job would be done next year.
Criminal justice experts say they are troubled by how much time it has taken the RCMP, which manages the database, to eliminate the backlog for a database that is relied upon not only by police officers, who use it to check suspects’ backgrounds, but also by employers and volunteer organizations who use it to vet job applicants and the courts who use it to make bail and sentencing decisions.
“Prosecutors would like to see this get resolved across the country … so we can have an up-to-date picture of each individual coming through the court system,” said Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel.
Over the last decade, Canada’s auditor general has repeatedly taken the RCMP to task for how much time it has taken to enter fingerprint and criminal history records into the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database, and rated the agency’s level of progress as “unsatisfactory.”
In 2015, Tom Stamatakis, national president of the Canadian Police Association, told Global News that public safety could be at risk. He used the example of a parolee who has a run-in with the law
“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.”
That same year, an RCMP spokesman told the CBC that the backlog of files would be cleared by 2018.
We can have an up-to-date picture of each individual coming through the court system
But internal agency records obtained earlier this year by Alberta blogger Dennis Young through an access-to-information request revealed that as of August 2016, there were still 570,639 criminal files that hadn’t been uploaded to the database, which contains more than 4.4 million individual files.
The records showed that from 2013 through 2015, there were 388,122 new criminal convictions, but only 58 per cent of files related to those convictions were entered into the CPIC database — this despite a boost in funding during that period, from $1.7 million to $2.8 million, to address the backlog.
This week, the National Post asked the RCMP for an update and was told by spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer that the backlog peaked in the fall of 2016 and that the number of criminal files waiting to be entered into the CPIC database now stands at 442,325.
Historically, the system relied on paper-based files, Pfleiderer said. But the force has been working with other police agencies to develop a fully automated and digitized system that will allow criminal record information to be uploaded in “near real-time.” This system should be completed by the end of the year, he said.
Further, “a plan has been put in place to prioritize the elimination of the backlog holdings,” he wrote in an email. “Priority files that contain either sex, weapons, or violent convictions are targeted to be fully updated by early 2018. The remainder of the backlog is projected to be eliminated by 2020, keeping in mind that these timelines may vary depending on other RCMP and government priorities.”
Currently, the force has 69 analysts working to eliminate the backlog and a budget of $3.9 million, he added.
The number of criminal files waiting to be entered into the CPIC database now stands at 442,325
Woodburn said he worries that the lack of a reliable nationwide database could result in criminals being treated like first-time offenders by the justice system when, in reality, they have committed crimes in other parts of the country.
“Our criminals are very transient now. It used to be that they liked to stick to their hometown. They are travelling across the country, they know they’re mobile, and they’re committing various crimes in various areas. The problem is that CPIC is not picking that up,” Woodburn told the House of Commons standing committee on justice and human rights in April.
Because of the gaps in the database, Woodburn, who is based in Halifax, said it’s not uncommon for he and his fellow prosecutors to have to call up other jurisdictions to verify whether someone has a record in those places or not.
Pfleiderer said if police agencies or Crown attorneys need criminal records updated for court purposes, the RCMP can expedite those requests.