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RCMP avoids cuts to key services including DNA analysis, at least for now

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RCMP officers march off the parade grounds following the RCMP National Memorial Service in Regina Sunday, September 12, 2010. The RCMP says it will avoid cuts to vital police services - at least for now - due to revised funding agreements with the provinces, technological advances and some internal streamlining.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

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RCMP officers march off the parade grounds following the RCMP National Memorial Service in Regina Sunday, September 12, 2010. The RCMP says it will avoid cuts to vital police services - at least for now - due to revised funding agreements with the provinces, technological advances and some internal streamlining.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

OTTAWA - The RCMP says it will avoid cuts to vital police services — at least for now — due to revised funding agreements with the provinces, technological advances and some internal streamlining.

Money shortfalls recently forced the Mounties to look at paring back some national services such as DNA analysis, fingerprinting operations and criminal intelligence.

The squeeze meant that $32.5 million, almost one-fifth of what the national police force spends annually on the services — which many other players in the criminal justice system depend on — was being scrounged from elsewhere within the RCMP.

The Mounties "can no longer manage" the funding deficit and had identified "potential significant cuts" to the National Police Services, warned a 2013 briefing note to the public safety minister, released under the Access to Information Act.

At this point, no cuts have been made, said Sean Jorgensen, the RCMP's director of strategic policy for specialized policing services.

"We're very close to having addressed the gap we identified several years ago," Jorgensen said in an interview.

But he cautioned that the cutting-edge technologies the RCMP requires — from robotic DNA extractors to electron microscopes — means the money pressures will continue.

"You're never going to solve a financial problem in the National Police Services because they're constantly evolving."

The National Police Services administered by the RCMP can be traced to the creation of central bureaus for fingerprint identification in 1908 and criminal records in 1910.

Today they include forensic laboratory services, the Canadian Firearms Program, the Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Sex Offenders Registry, the Canadian Police Information Centre — a records database police services across the country consult daily — the Canadian Police College and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, among other operations.

Various reviews have pointed out that the mushrooming number of services have lacked coherent overall guidance and support — instead being managed essentially as separate activities.

Three years ago, the federal auditor general found the RCMP had not taken the necessary steps to improve police services by acting on recommendations in three previous audit reports dating from 2000.

The auditor said the federal government, working with provincial, territorial and municipal partners, must decide which police services the RCMP should provide, and how they should be delivered and paid for.

In 2012 a national advisory committee was created to make recommendations on the operations and direction of the National Police Services.

The RCMP and the committee have developed a proposed governing charter to spell out the vision, mandate and scope of the services.

To make the services more sustainable, the Mounties made changes — often taking advantage of new technologies — to save $9 million a year.

Forensic services have been consolidated, shrinking from six labs across Canada to three, in Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa. Staff there do biology casework and toxicology tests, examine trace evidence, identify fingerprints, and analyze firearms and ballistics samples.

The RCMP has also been negotiating updated cost-sharing agreements for DNA analysis done by the Mounties for all provinces and territories except Ontario and Quebec, which run their own labs.

British Columbia is the only one yet to agree in principle to a new arrangement.

The revised deals better reflect the actual cost of providing DNA analysis, instrumental in closing the funding gap, the RCMP says.

At the Ottawa DNA lab, white-smocked technicians wearing face masks and rubber gloves toil in an antiseptic environment to avoid cross-contamination of samples.

The RCMP says average turnaround time for analyzing blood or other bodily fluids on crime-scene evidence such as clothing has dropped considerably — to just over 50 days last year from as high as 150 days.

Especially urgent cases can be done in three days. It's still not the seemingly instant result seen on television series like the CSI franchise, but technical advances are speeding things up.

The notes released under Access to Information say modifications to the national Sex Offender Registry to address travelling sex offenders and new proposals to provide police access to suspended criminal records are being added to National Police Services without additional funding.

In addition, funding for the new National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains will expire next year.

The RCMP says these issues are "under consideration" by the Conservative government.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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