Lobby group tackles cops over DNA backlog
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Cape Town - Lobby group Action Society has instructed its legal team to lodge a formal complaint with the public protector against the police and are also considering other legal options, as the backlog of unprocessed DNA tests approaches the 200 000 mark.
Action Society's spokesperson Rineé Pretorius said mismanagement and maladministration within the police has undermined the public’s rights to equality, fair administrative action, as well as their access to courts.
Pretorius said, due to a dispute over costs and non-payment for computer systems at the police's Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), managing all evidence, including property control and exhibit management (PCEM), was shut down in June.
"Apart from the backlog in unprocessed DNA tests approaching the 200 000 mark, it also implies that the firearms register is inactive," said Pretorius.
She said, in a meeting with Parliament's portfolio committee on police on Wednesday, national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole said they have stepped away from the Forensic Data Analysts (FDA) deal and already invested R2.9 million in the State Information Technology Agency (Sita), a new system.
"In a country, where more than 12 000 women were raped and 6 297 people murdered, from October until December, the status quo is shocking. While police are shifting the blame and calling on more meetings, our criminal justice system is being jeopardised,” said Pretorius.
According to Pretorius, Action Society’s complaint would focus on the contract management and the awarding of tenders, the reactivation of the FDA’s trusted computer systems (specifically so that DNA testing can resume) and for the amendment of the DNA Act to be signed, allowing that buccal samples for a DNA register may be taken from convicted criminals.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said, during one of his responses to the committee this week, Sitole clearly stated that the police services would not mislead Parliament before today, and would not do so at any other time.
Naidoo said the Action Society was most welcome to lodge its complaint. However, it must be noted that the police continued to work tirelessly to ensure a professional and effective police service, in all areas of policing.
"The system designed and launched on Tuesday by Sita, for the tracking and tracing of exhibits, is indicative that the police is moving in a positive direction with regards to the operations of the Forensic Science Laboratory," said Naidoo.
Portfolio committee on police chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the committee was confident that, through its intervention and insistence, the long-standing DNA case exhibit backlog and the dysfunction at the National FSL would soon be resolved.
Joemat-Pettersson said, after a period of almost four years, there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel, with respect to the processing of DNA samples.
She said the committee engaged the police management and Sita, with the aim of finding workable solutions to the DNA backlog and the PCEM information system.
“Following the fruitful engagement, we are now confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The commitments we received here are a first step towards ensuring justice to victims of gender-based violence,” said Joemat-Pettersson.
She said the offer by the National Treasury, to assist both Saps and Sita, would ensure the successful completion of clearing the DNA backlog and migration towards an internal system.
She said all stakeholders should work collaboratively and share technical skills if the police were to be successfully weaned from external service providers, especially in critical areas of work.
"The committee is particularly satisfied that the new internal system, developed by Sita, will come online on April 6."