Experts on how to better preserve police dockets
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SINCE the Cold Case Series began this year, the Weekend Argus has been told by the police there was no specialised team and that dockets were filed and stored away until new evidence came to light.
This week we look at how these dockets are stored and experts tell us how this system can be improved, while others say paper is more reliable when technology fails.
Every year, court cases are delayed or even temporarily struck off the court roll when a docket goes missing or is found incomplete.
People close to a missing persons case, which had received media attention and cannot be named in this edition due to the sensitivity of the case, revealed that they hired a private investigator to review the case docket.
They discovered that the docket only had four pages and had been water-damaged.
Police spokesperson Colonel Andre Traut said the entire docket was, however, scanned electronically and any docket could be reproduced if the original copy was lost.
Previously, Captain FC Van Wyk confirmed “cold case dockets” were stored and reviewed once new evidence came to light.
“Kindly be advised that case dockets are stored in an archive at a police station once the investigation has been concluded.
“The entire case docket is scanned and stored electronically in case that the hard copy is lost or destroyed,” said Traut.
Anine Kriegler, of the centre of criminology at UCT, said there had been delays in the upgrading of dockets and their systems.
She added that a single missing docket could sadly delay justice.
“The Saps have for decades had an internal electronic Crime Administration System (CAS), and for the last five years (it) has been rolling out its replacement – the Integrated Case Docket Management System (ICDMS), which is intended to link the dockets from the Saps with other criminal justice system actors, such as the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Legal Aid South Africa, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the Department of Correctional Services.
“There has been progress on this, but there have been delays due to the need to upgrade network infrastructure across the system and to conduct necessary training.
“I’m not sure exactly what its status is at the moment but we've waited long enough. It is essential that this system becomes fully operational as soon as possible.
“It is unthinkable that the loss of a physical file can still be the reason for justice not being done. The Saps and correctional services should comply with the National Archives Act of South Africa.
“The implementation of a proper records management programme will assist the institutions.
“The National Archives Act stipulates that government institutions should have a proper records management policies, procedures, business classification system and a proper disposal programme,” said Kriegler.
Nina Lewin, who deals with data management, said paper still had an important role vs technology and that new systems and administrations were costly and that errors could creep in during transfer of the information.
“I would add that records management in a situation like the police resembles very difficult fieldwork. A lot depends on the people capturing the data.
“That paper has significant advantages and we probably should run both systems. There are a number of huge advantages in audits and electronic logging but it needs professional systems administrators and data curation.
“Buying in a system could be a huge mistake. It means sensitive data will be locked into a commercial system.
“Take a look at the court judgment on social development failure to retrieve data. They treated data management like a service and they failed to realise that the organisation of a dataset, which was by then the IP of the company they hired, was critical.
“That mistake almost killed the payments of grants. There was corruption but they also got held to ransom by that company.
“So I do not envy the police records management, it’s a huge job under some very adverse circumstances also requiring ICT skills.
“Plus, data is expensive and unreliable, which is a problem for another day and the people doing the imputing probably have backlogs and are trained as administrators.”