Police Minister: Forensics cleans up its act
Government pumps millions into strategic division
THE Muldersdrift serial rapist, Shavani Phophi, who was linked through the DNA database to the rape a 10-year-old girl, was found guilty on six counts of rape, two counts of theft and three counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances. He was eventually given two life sentences - 95 years in total.
His case is one of many, which would not have been successful had it not been for forensic analysis rendered as additional evidence.
The value chain - from effecting arrest to securing conviction - involves various processes as well as the "silent weapon" of forensic services that society often does not get to know about, let alone understand its contribution.
We recently opened a R600-million state-of-the-art forensic science laboratory (FSL) in Plattekloof, outside Cape Town. We believe the laboratory will become an additional and useful arsenal to our crime-fighting programmes.
We remain confident that it will support our objective of contributing to the successful prosecution of crime by thoroughly investigating cases, thereby increasing the detection rate of priority crimes, particularly crimes against women, children and the elderly.
That also includes violent contact crimes.
The laboratory has been operational since November last year and supports the investigation of crime through the processing of crime scenes, forensic evidence and maintenance of criminal records.
It is known that we experienced serious backlogs within our forensic services, hence, through intervention, we began to realise some improvements.
There were unsatisfactory reports doing the rounds about how courts could not finalise cases as a result of forensic delays.
In that regard, the lab complements our focus around smarter policing and our engagement with the criminal justice system.
Indeed, science implies that to secure a conviction, there has to be empirical evidence because in a court of law, word of mouth does not necessarily guarantee convictions.
As such, the FSL has reported an overall 63% increase in the number of cases received for the 2011-12 financial year.
The FSL also reported a 30% reduction in backlogs for the same financial year.
For the reporting periods, backlogs were defined as cases finalised in more than 28 working days upon receipt at the laboratory.
It has been a tragedy of history in South Africa that resources, including police stations, have been mainly allocated in urban areas and, to a greater part, there has been a neglect of rural areas. Forensics is no exception.
In correcting that past, this crucial division is now putting in place a forensics awareness drive. The programme extends outside the confines of cities to rural areas, so that even those citizens who are in remote areas can benefit.
Following the recruitment of personnel, the division is moving towards skills capacity.
To that end, R63-million has been set aside for the 2011-12 financial year for the establishment and enhancement of skills within the forensic services.
The division has further identified key areas in which the enhancement of skills is necessary, and that includes the incorporation of basic forensic services training in the detective learning programme. In this financial year, R35-million has been earmarked for all training and development, and that includes enhanced crime scene investigation and processing expertise.
Having invested so much into skills development, advancement and enhancement of competencies, it becomes critical to then retain such expertise. We have engaged and requested the national police commissioner to look into the practicalities of implementing a retention strategy.
We believe that will not only afford us a platform to retain our expertise, but also to improve the experience levels of our analysts, to allow them to be comparable with their peers within the forensic field internationally.
Legislatively, we have also begun to review and place before parliament the Criminal Procedure (Forensic Amendment) Bill. The bill is being processed in two phases. The first phase deals with fingerprinting, and it was passed into law in September last year. The second aspect relates to the DNA Bill, which has not yet been finalised.
There are very critical expectations by not only the oversight body on the implementation aspects of the acts, but also our communities are eagerly awaiting the passing of the legislations and their full implementation.
The laboratory demonstrates how modernised systems coupled with well-equipped human capital can blend together and contribute towards an improved turn-around time in terms of processing forensic case work.
We have overhauled the organisational structure and now hold our own within the international forensic services family. With what has been done in re-engineering analytical processes, we are certain that the laboratory is not going to become a white elephant.
For all the human capital and infrastructural investment that we have put into the laboratory, we shall be expecting nothing less than qualitative and excellent service.
The lab contributes towards a forensic service which inspires confidence within the criminal justice system and government.
- Mthethwa is the Minister of Police.