RCMP funding must match responsibilities
The StarPhoenix June 13, 2011 4:02 AM
It makes little sense for the federal government to push a law and order agenda if it's commitment stops short of providing the national law enforcement agency with the resources to do its job effectively.
Even as the government is planning on building bigger prisons, imposing more mandatory sentences and getting tougher on drug crimes, the latest report from Canada's auditor general suggests that a cash-strapped RCMP is being forced to cut back on investigating organized crime, drug enforcement and white-collar crime including money laundering.
So, while the new prisons could be filled with those who are serving longer sentences for committing relatively minor crimes including those done out of desperation by drug addicts, the RCMP is hamstrung from going after the criminal organizations that are profiting by the billions from producing, importing and controlling the trade in illicit drugs.
The latest report, released last week by interim auditor general John Wiersema, is the fourth time the public watchdog has raised serious concerns about the need to get RCMP operations streamlined.
A big part of the problem, as Mr. Wiersema noted, is the police service's mandate being continually expanded by Parliament without providing the agency with commensurate funding increases to match the added workload.
It's almost inconceivable that the agency entrusted to be the DNA, forensic and criminal history data repository for municipal and provincial police services across Canada is now so backlogged that it's taking 334 days on average to update a criminal record, even though the goal is 24 hours.
As accountants are wont to do, Mr. Wiersema puts the mess in a succinct but understated manner when he observes, "We have to go back and resolve some pretty fundamental questions."
Perhaps it can start with why it's taking the government so long to name a replacement for William Elliott, the civilian RCMP commissioner whose disastrous 3 1 ?2-year tenure ends this summer. Apparently, in an uncertain leadership environment, commanders are raiding each other's budgets for resources as they try to clear backlogs in areas such as forensic and criminal record checks.
Among the budgets being raided is money meant to bring in new recruits - an area where the Harper government had promised to do more.
Mr. Wiersema is right to note that among the questions that need to be addressed are what services the RCMP should be providing, at what level and at what charge.
After all, he notes that few formal agreements are in place with other police agencies, even though they access about 70 per cent of national police services whose costs are mostly borne by the RCMP. Meanwhile, the answer of the force's top brass to budget shortfalls has been to keep cutting in areas such as drug, gang and terrorism investigations.
If the government is serious about acting to safeguard Canadians from criminals, it needs to do more than pass laws that toughen sentences and piling on more responsibilities to an overextended national police force whose administration has been in a mess for a decade.
A revamping of the force must begin with delineating its responsibilities clearly, requiring that the costs of its services be paid for by those who use them, and farming out tasks that don't need to be done in-house.
Politicians and those who elect them should have a clear understanding of the actual costs involved in delivering on the law and order agenda. As this audit shows, to do anything less only creates the impression that government is acting to safeguard the public when, in fact, the reality at the policing level are untenable delays, undone investigations and outdated data that undermine public safety and confidence.
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