There is a backlog of 170 000 DNA testing samples and, according to reports, millions of forensic evidence are missing. Picture: Pixabay
There is a backlog of 170 000 DNA testing samples and, according to reports, millions of forensic evidence are missing. Picture: Pixabay

Police confident of measures to deal with forensic backlog

By Janine Moodley Time of article published Apr 30, 2021

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Durban: Police management believes that a resolution is within reach of the country’s DNA testing backlog.

There is a backlog of 170 000 DNA testing samples and, according to reports, millions of forensic evidence are missing.

SAPS management has confirmed that a two-year contract with a service provider to supply testing consumables was secured. To deal with the missing exhibits, a fully functional track-and-trace system, said the SAPS, was operational.

The previous system, the Property Control and Exhibit Management System (PCEM), was terminated by the service provider, Forensic Data Analysis (FDA), after the police failed to pay for the system in June 2020. About 8 million pieces of forensic exhibits had reportedly also gone missing.

Brigadier Vish Naidoo, the national spokesperson for SAPS, said the exhibits were not missing but were stored in the Forensic Service Laboratory Administration System and that it could only be accessed manually.

He said SAPS had worked with the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and developed the Forensic Exhibit Management (FEM) System, which would deal with the backlog.

“This new system, which also has a track-and-trace functionality, replaced the previous system run by the service provider. The FEM system can now speedily locate the source and storage of the forensic evidence.”

The FEM system went live on April 6 and about 10 million samples from the Forensic Laboratory Administration System have since been loaded into the system for a quick track and trace. Almost 25 000 new exhibits were also loaded into this system, said Naidoo.

He said the backlog of DNA testing for at least 172 000 samples emanated from the shortage of quantification kits, also known as DNA consumables, that were essential for DNA testing at the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratories.

He said while a contract was secured for the consumables, validation of the kits needed to be done to ensure its efficacy. In this regard, the SAPS has finalised a two-year contract with a service provider to supply the consumables.

“This process is expected to conclude in the next two months. In the meantime, the SAPS has procured enough quantification kits on a quotation basis to last at least three months so that the backlog, as well as the testing of new samples, can continue, allowing enough time for the validation process to be completed.”

Naidoo said DNA samples required for court cases, especially related to gender-based violence cases, and DNA samples needed for the identification of persons for burials, were being prioritised.

“All hands are on deck at the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratories to urgently tackle the existing backlogs. The workforce of the forensic analysts there has been adjusted to allow for overtime work.”

He said evidence in the priority of DNA samples was already beginning to show.

“On Friday, April 23, 2021, a Benoni man was confirmed a serial rapist after being positively linked to 60 rape cases through DNA identification. This man was arrested earlier this month on a single rape charge and the evidence collected at the crime scene matched evidence collected to 59 other cases to which this man has been connected. This man is expected to appear in the Benoni Magistrate’s Court again on April 29.”

In a recent presentation to the portfolio committee on police, SAPS Major General Leon Rabie, the head of police strategic management, said the contributing factors that led to the issue with forensic exhibits, included:

- The lack of electronic track-and-trace capability resulted in the manual track and trace of cases and exhibits. This negatively affected the turnaround time.

- Not all critical consumables and reagents were available due to outstanding contracts.

- Low production levels due to Covid-19.

- Not all critical equipment and machinery was operational.

- Required quality of evidence material.

- High volume of DNA buccal (swab) samples.

- Increase demand for forensic products.

Rabie said phase 1 of development, which to date costs about R2.9 million, was completed in February.

He said staff had been trained on how to use the module to ensure integrity was maintained.

The FEM module in the FSL Administration System includes:

- Registration of objects

- Case registration

- Reference index sample registration

- Movement of objects (internal handover, external handover and change location)

- Status change

- Barcode deactivation and authorisation

- Barcode search functionality (sealed bag number and case information can also be used)

The portfolio committee recently deemed the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratories dysfunctional and subsequently called for the national forensic oversight and ethics board to urgently deal with issues that arose.

Joemat-Pettersson said the backlog concerns were raised for two years and that it had a direct impact on the criminal justice system.

She said the backlog caused a delay in people providing a proper send-off for their dead and that it also compromised GBV cases that needed timeous scientific-based evidence.

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