Report raises security concerns over KZN forensic lab

There’s no ‘biometric equipment or security keypad’

The Public Service Commission says the Cyril Ramaphosa should consider turning a police forensics lab in KwaZulu-Natal into a national key point.
The Public Service Commission says the Cyril Ramaphosa should consider turning a police forensics lab in KwaZulu-Natal into a national key point.
Image: Picture: 123RF/BELCHONOK

Security at SA Police Service’s biggest forensic science lab in KwaZulu-Natal was so lax that it should be declared a national key point to address the security concern.

This recommendation was made by the public service commission (PSC) in its report Pulse of the Public Service, which looked into state of police forensic labs across the country.

The report said: “The KwaZulu-Natal laboratory should be declared a national key point to ensure that the condition of the accommodation receives the required attention, that being, expediting the relocation project.”

PSC commissioner Anele Gxoyiya told the Sowetan that the police’s forensics lab in KZN was the biggest and busiest in the country, handling forensic evidence from rape, robberies, murder and other serious crimes.

Gxoyiya said they were concerned about the structure of the lab.

“If you look at the layout of the KZN laboratory; you need to have an enclosed area where they do the actual testing. In front they must have an administrative office where they would meet people. There should be areas which are inaccessible, where you have to enter either using biometrics or a particular security code.

“Some of the areas in the KZN lab were easily accessible because of the absence of the biometric equipment or security keypad. Those are the security issues we raised,” said Gxoyiya.

“The work of these laboratories is at the heart of the criminal justice system in the country. The success or failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute in any crime is dependent on the quality of work being done at these laboratories.

“We also looked at the input and output of forensic evidence. We found that the output is less than the input, which means that somewhere in the line of functionality, there are missing links [that need to be addressed].

He said they discovered that staff were also running short of surgical gloves to work on the evidence.

“There was [also a shortage] of chemicals that gets mixed with the evidence that [the police have] to produce the outcomes that they want.”

He said if the constitutional and high courts can be declared national key points, there is nothing that stops government from declaring the biggest forensics laboratory in the country as a national key point.

The PSC also recommended that the laboratories should be moved to areas near public hospitals so that they do not suffer from power outages and security concerns.

National police spokesperson Brig Athlenda Mathe said: "Security at all our forensic science labs across the country are a priority. Over and above ensuring there is adequate and heightened security to secure our labs, the SAPS is constantly looking at ways to enhance and improve security in line with the latest technology, this is an ongoing process.

"Access to all labs are manned by both police and security officers. We welcome the recommendations made by the PSC as an oversight body," said Mathe.

The report also raised concerns regarding the laboratories' ability to eradicate backlogs.

“With backlogs, the laboratories cannot fulfil their critical role effectively and are therefore contributing to delays in the criminal justice system and as a result, justice is not served, especially to the most vulnerable,” read the report.

“The total national backlog stood at 10,609 case exhibits during the 2018/19 financial year. A considerable increase in backlogs was seen in the following financial years, with a total backlog in forensic cases standing at 300,722 in 2020/21. The data for 2021/22 that shows a backlog of 308,186, reflects a (2.4%) increase in backlogs from the previous financial year,” said the report.

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