July 18th, 2024

Online police check system flawed: Volunteer Lethbridge

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 13, 2024.

Herald photo by Steffanie Costigan Volunteer Lethbridge executive director Amanda Jensen, at right, and Junior volunteer coordinator Jaixann Persigans say they've encountered challenges with the new online police information check.

Volunteer Lethbridge has encountered challenges with the launch of the new online application system for Police Information Check for volunteers by Lethbridge Police Service.

Originally the goal with having an online application system was to cut down the time for volunteers to have a PIC done.

However, Volunteer Lethbridge has several concerns with the online application system.

Volunteer Lethbridge executive director Amanda Jensen said the online system was not set up collaboratively and as result there are problems with it.

“Unfortunately, VL did not have the requested opportunity for a collaborative discussion before it went live to help inform its development, or to prepare for community communications. Though we are glad to see a movement toward an online process, we do have serious concerns about the system as it was launched,” said Jensen in an interview this week.

Jensen said VL was made aware Lethbridge Police Service was looking into the online application system, however, the organization was shocked how quickly it was launched.

“We’ve been aware that the Lethbridge Police Service was looking at launching an online application system for police information checks. And of course, they do them for employment purposes and voluntary purposes…We’ve been aware it’s coming for a while; it was a surprise to us that it was launched a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t know it was coming.”

She said there are benefits to an online application system, however.

“We still have very high hopes for the opportunity for volunteers to be able to apply online, there’s plenty of people that would take that opportunity. It would assist volunteers with going through the process of that piece of the screening process of volunteer management, it would increase the probability that they do it… Being able to advance online right then and there, rather than taking a letter down to the station could be very advantageous. And we’re very excited about that,” she said.

Jensen noted about 100 non-profit organizations are currently members of VL and there about 400 non-profits in southern Alberta which would be sending their volunteers to the online system to obtain a police check. VL has more than 1,000 registered volunteers in its database.

“The likelihood of a volunteer making it through the system, as introduced by LPS on this online system, is tremendously low,” said Jensen, who added in an email to several parties including the LPS, Volunteer Alberta, City of Lethbridge Community Social Development manager Andrew Malcolm and VL’s board chair David Reeve that “we are glad to see this change progress, but do have serious concerns about the system that was launched as it will affect community volunteers, non-profit organizations, and the stakeholders included here.”

Jensen said there are three options on the central application page and VL has concerns with the first two:

1) To apply for a police information check, and;

2) To apply online for police information check through the Volunteer Alberta program.

“The overarching issue we have with the online system as presented is that VA has a (volunteer screening) program that is unique from any other jurisdiction in Alberta. This is because VL has a centralized volunteer operating model that no other community yet has,” said Jensen in her email, adding the on online PIC process in Lethbridge cannot be copied from any other Volunteer Alberta volunteer screening program agreement with any other police service in the province.

“At its most basic, our model is different because we have community volunteers apply directly to VL, and we refer them out to our ~100 nonprofit member organizations. In this process, VL and not the individual non-profit organizations perform seven steps of screening, including managing the PICs (referring volunteers to LPS, giving them the authorization letter, and determining one of five VSC codes that VL has access to use),” Jensen wrote.

Junior volunteer coordinator with VL Jaixann Persigans said there are two ways to approach the online system to request for a police check and addressed the issues volunteers face with the online application.

“In the two links that they have in their online system, one of them that’s mentioned volunteers through Volunteer Alberta program, nothing is basically able to be done with anyone at all. Because if you want to register it, you have your online login, and all of that, and then you get into your dashboard, and then when you go to new application, it will just say you need a voucher code, and nothing else is done there. It’s just a sentence that you need a voucher code, and we have no idea how to get even a voucher code where it is. And there’s no blank space where you put your code,” said Persigans.

Persigans voiced the challenge with the other link to the online application.

She said for the other link the process takes seven to eight steps and near the end is when a person would upload the letter of request from Volunteer Lethbridge after paying for the information check.

“That’s a major problem,” she said.

Jensen agreed with Persigans, describing the confusion volunteers may encounter with going through the online system.

“The volunteers that we see through Volunteer Lethbridge, none of them pay. It’s all direct-billed from LPS to Volunteer Alberta. In this scenario, and so what we do when a volunteer comes in, and they we determine that they need a PIC is we give them a letter that says ‘hey, LPS, this is legit, this person is interested in volunteering at this place,’ and we give them a code and the codes are assigned by Volunteer Alberta and that allows LPS to invoice Volunteer Alberta for the work.

“A regular citizen applying to be a volunteer would have no idea what a Volunteer Alberta screening code is. And they may or may not have a letter from the organization that is requiring them to get a police information check, so they won’t know what is even required to upload,” said Jensen.

“The last thing I’ll say about it is the problem is exacerbated because in other communities where there are online police information checks for volunteers they don’t have this centralized management system that we have here… it’s part of the rub here in that you can’t copy and paste what is happening in other communities in Alberta between volunteers, police detachments or RCMP detachments because Lethbridge is so unique,” said Jensen.

Jensen said VL will be continuing to do police checks for volunteers by their usual method to avoid confusion.

“We will, through Volunteer Lethbridge be continuing to use the status quo system of requiring volunteers to go to the station so that we can keep them free. We can keep it clear, we can reduce confusion around the process.”

In 2023, VL referred 900 volunteers to community organizations, some which required PICs while others didn’t.

“For the approximate 100 that we serve, which include many that have the most active volunteer programs, this system as presented does not work. And of course, the system as presented does not even mention VL or its operating model, which is working very well,” Jensen stated in her email to the LPS and others.

In an email to non-profit members, VL stated it does not recommend sending volunteers to apply for a PIC through the online system.

“The instructions are highly confusing, and in some instances, contradictory as one works through the process,” said VL.

“Also, there is no opportunity to get through the system without inputting a credit card (minimum fee charged is $15.45). And finally, a larger system issue is we find the process screens volunteers out rather than in; issues of equity and inclusion will have to be addressed longer-term.”

It added “we’re pleased LPS is going down this path and are eager to support its evolution.”

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