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EXCLUSIVE: RCMP’s new strategy for tackling terrorism, organized crime — accountants, computer whizzes and data geeks

EXCLUSIVE: RCMP’s new strategy for tackling terrorism, organized crime — accountants, computer whizzes and data geeks
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The RCMP is embarking on a new recruitment strategy that will substantially alter the complexion of the national police force, replacing scores of traditional criminal investigators with civilians who have specialized skills to help pursue terrorists, cyber criminals, money launderers, drug traffickers and fraudsters, the National Post has learned.

The strategy, expected to roll out within the next two years, will see the force hiring and training accounting and computer experts, engineers, mathematicians and data scientists to become unarmed criminal investigators. The shift will take place within the RCMP’s federal policing branch, which is responsible for national security, drugs and organized crime, financial crime and border integrity.

As organized crime groups become more sophisticated in the use of technology, the RCMP similarly needs to evolve, Gilles Michaud, deputy commissioner in charge of federal policing, told the Post in an interview.

“It’s really a different way of looking at our business,” Michaud said. “Right now I’ve got about 2,500 investigators that do criminal investigations. Do those 2,500 need to be regular members who’ve gone through Depot (the RCMP training academy) and done frontline policing? My answer to that is ‘No.’”

As the force loses traditional criminal investigators to attrition, it will begin looking at what roles can be filled by civilian specialists, Michaud said. Instead of trying to teach new skills to regular gun-carrying members, “Why not take some people from the outside, bring them in?” he said.

The new strategy comes at a time when the force’s ability to combat organized crime has waned as it shuffled hundreds of investigators onto counterterrorism files. Just two weeks ago, a scathing interim report by retired RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German found there were “no federal (RCMP) resources in B.C. dedicated to criminal money-laundering investigations.”

“This is particularly alarming when one considers that the issue of money laundering has been front page news in B.C. almost two years,” German said, alluding to growing concerns that so-called “dirty money” is regularly being channelled through casinos, the real estate market and other industries.

A report last summer by the Financial Action Task Force, an international body dedicated to fighting money laundering and terrorist financing, suggested money laundering was big business in Western Canada. The report included a case study of a suspected professional money laundering organization based in B.C. that was said to have ties to Mexican cartels and Asian and Middle Eastern organized crime groups. According to the report, the organization was believed to have laundered over $1 billion annually through an underground banking network, involving legal and illegal casinos.

While acknowledging “we do have challenges” when it comes to tackling financial crimes, Michaud said 126 individuals were charged with money laundering offences across Canada over the last two years. In February, for instance, RCMP in Quebec announced 17 people had been charged in connection with a criminal network that allegedly moved large sums of money to drug-exporting countries, including Colombia and Mexico.

It’s really a different way of looking at our business

Michaud said he hopes the new recruitment strategy — plus the federal government’s recent announcement that it would provide close to $70 million over five years to combat money laundering — will help the agency build its capacity to go after organized crime groups.

Currently, he said, federal policing loses about 200 of its 2,500 criminal investigators to attrition each year. In the future, Michaud said, it’s possible as many as half of those could be replaced with regular members and half with civilian specialists.

“I’m not saying that’s the perfect formula, but that’s where my head is at when we’re looking at those new investments.”

The idea, he said, is to open “a different gateway into the organization for people who have the skill sets that are required to do those complex files but who don’t necessarily want to be police officers, don’t not necessarily want to carry guns, don’t necessarily want to go to Depot for six months and do frontline policing.”

While the agency does already have a stable of civilians providing analytical support to criminal investigators, Michaud said he hopes the next generation of civilian investigators will be able to take on expanded roles, including intelligence collection.

“I feel if we’re more effective in how we collect our intelligence that would allow us to be a bit more surgical in (who in the criminal organization) we go after and do it faster because the foundation of the information would be stronger.”

A separate training program will also be developed. While civilian investigators won’t be required to go through  the firearms or physical training that regular members have to go through, they will still have to be educated in the Criminal Code, learn about national security and cyber threats, and get specialty training in surveillance and writing search warrants.

Michaud said the force is hoping to use some of the new federal money to invest in technology to enable investigators to more easily sift through mountains of data obtained from cell phones, computers and thumb drives, as well as to help translate foreign languages.

The force is also making an effort to prevent organized crime investigators at the federal policing and local levels from tripping over each other. When it comes to investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs, for instance, federal investigators will be expected to focus on a gang’s transnational activities, while local investigators might focus on incidents of violence and intimidation.

Reaction to the RCMP’s new recruitment strategy is mixed. Robert Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, said the new approach has tremendous potential but said it will be critical for the force to move away from its quasi-military training approach when dealing with civilians.

“You don’t train them in the same way you train young men and women destined for the streets,” he said.

The coming-together of highly skilled civilians and frontline officers will have to be carefully managed to avoid friction, he added.

Animosity can develop sometimes between regular gun-carrying officers and civilian workers, said Henry Tso, a retired RCMP superintendent who oversaw financial crime investigations in B.C.

Traditionally, you had to work in uniform in general policing for several years before you could work complex files in federal policing, he said. There is a view that “you have to have some type of experience investigating smaller cases before you do large cases.”

I think they’re scrambling

Tso said there is absolutely a need to bring in civilian experts but to go so far as to replace half the criminal investigators in federal policing with civilians would be a “complete paradigm shift” and he’s not sure it’s a desirable one when there is already a shortage of traditional investigators.

You still need people out on the streets collecting evidence, doing surveillance and arresting people, he said.

Garry Clement, a retired superintendent who once headed the RCMP’s proceeds of crime program, said he worries that the new civilian recruits will lack investigative prowess.

Clement said he has no problem with civilians playing a supporting role, but, at the end of the day, it’s the regular, frontline officers who have the “investigative psyche” to be able to put cases together. He’d prefer to bring in specialists to mentor them rather than start replacing them with civilians.

“I think they’re scrambling,” he said.

But Michaud said more civilians are needed, not only to help investigate crimes, but to help bring about a culture shift in the force.

“Diversity of thought — that’s where I believe it’ll have positive impact and enable us to evolve,” he said. “Bringing a different type of people with different backgrounds and experiences can only be helpful in modernizing our organization.”

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