Detective Dialogue 5 September 2012

Whilst most newspapers throughout the country are today filled with headlines such as “Lawmakers hear of sad state of SAPS detective service” and “Clueless detectives battle to take down statements”, The DNA Project was very pleased to have been invited by the Portfolio Committee on Police to a day in Parliament which focused on vital issues regarding the Detective Branch of SAPS.

Yes, the day started with all the “doom and gloom” regarding the challenges faced by detectives in South Africa. What became clear from the outset was that our detectives often lack training in the most basic of skills such as crime scene management and even computer literacy. 70% of police stations do not have sufficient detectives and their caseloads are unrealistically high. These same detectives are also under-resourced when it comes to vehicles, cell phones and computer equipment. However, the “Detective Dialogue” was not arranged to simply bemoan this sad state of affairs, but rather to identify the challenges faced by this division of SAPS and to exchange ideas on how best to move forward into the 21st century….

I was pleased that a clear distinction was made between the forensic science divisions which fall under SAPS – which include DNA – and those that are managed by the Department of Health, for example toxicology. Commissioner Nzimande spoke of the results of a comprehensive study conducted by the Public Service Commission which found that the forensic services which fall under SAPS were generally well managed whereas those under the Department of Health are severely understaffed, are lacking in resources and are dealing with large backlogs.

Hon. Dianne Kohler Barnard, David Klatzow and many others highlighted the need for evidence to be preserved at a crime scene and the necessity for all first responders to secure the scene and not to touch or move any items of evidence before the arrival of competent crime scene investigators. Whilst Maj. Gen. Johnson clearly stated that in all major crime scenes, first responders cordon off the crime scene and wait for crime scene investigators, he did not imply that this should in fact happen at ALL crime scenes. It was proposed that all SAPS members receive a 2 week course in crime scene management during their initial 18 month training period. Of course we agree that this MUST happen.

Interestingly Dr. Johan Burger from the Institute of Security Studies stressed the need for an independent method of assessing trainers and course material. He further suggested that SAPS make use of retired detectives who could provide invaluable mentorship to young, inexperienced detectives. He also spoke about the need for SAPS to make use of private training organisations –  a proposal which was also re-emphasised by Hon. Kohler Barnard and Hon. Van Wyk who stressed the need for basic crime scene management training to be provided to ALL SAPS members.This is certainly an area where The DNA Project could make a positive contribution – we are already conducting workshops which cover the basics of crime scene preservation, how evidence should be preserved, collected and transported to the Forensic Science Laboratories – and our workshops are provided free of charge! To date we have conducted “DNA awareness workshops”for more than 16 000 people in the last 18 months.

It was distressing to note that many detectives do not receive any special training. It was suggested that promising detectives be identified following the successful completion of the SAPS basic training. The position of “detective” should be seen as a promotion within the police force.

In terms of SAPS keeping up with technology…. It is blatantly clear that they have failed miserably. This is evident from detectives lack of access to basic technology such as cell phones and computers!

It was noted that many detectives are not aware of the recently passed legislation regarding the ability of SAPS to access the fingerprint databases of Home Affairs and Transport. A lesson to be learned from this is that a concerted effort must be made to ensure the changes contained in the proposed “DNA Bill” are made clear to all SAPS members.

A session which considered violence against women and children raised some concerns for me… The use of DNA was never stressed by either of the speakers;Ms. Lisa Vetton and Maj. Gen. Botsheleng. In fact it was clearly stated that the conviction rate for “stranger” rape (where the rapists is not known to the woman or child) is exceptionally low. Furthermore, the use of fingerprints and eyewitness testimony were discussed – this I found quite bizarre as fingerprints are not routinely found on the body of a rape victim and eyewitness testimony is notoriously fallible. In most cases of sexual assault DNA is often the only form of physical evidence – evidence which is totally objective in nature – DNA evidence doesn’t lie! I was at pains to point out that it is common knowledge that 90% of rapists re-offend and that the ONLY reliable tool for identifying these repeat offenders is the through DNA and a DNA Database of previous offenders. I also stressed the importance of the proposed amendment to the legislation which will enable trained police officers to take DNA from suspects using buccal swabs. In addition I also spoke about the need for ALL police stations and hospitals to have sexual assault kits available.

A practical recommendation that was proposed was that all police vehicles contain basic items such as barrier tape, gloves, shoe covers and masks. This would go a long way towards ensuring crime scenes are secured and that the contamination and destruction of evidence is minimised.

In response to comments made by Dr.Klatzow and Maj. Gen Shezi that there was no tertiary training in forensic science, I did point out that this was not entirely correct. The postgraduate course material developed for the field of Forensic Biology was in fact developed and funded by the DNA Project in conjunction with the FSL. This qualification is now offered at a number of Tertiary Institutions throughout South Africa. It was agreed however, that the need for all disciplines in forensic science to also have such modules available remains problematic.

Jenny Irish, The Civilian Secretariat for Police in her closing remarks spoke of investigations driven by criminal intelligence. We can only hope then that the Portfolio Committee of Police recognise the urgent need to finalise the DNA Bill so that this can become a reality in South Africa.

Following yesterday’s deliberations Hon. Annelize van Wyk, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee stated that a report will be produced with comprehensive proposals on how best to address the challenges faced by detectives. The report should be presented to the Minister of Police and the implementation of the proposed action plan should be monitored by the Ministry and not SAPS. Time will tell….


One Response to “Detective Dialogue 5 September 2012”

  1. vuyiswa says:

    Evryone that works for fsl knows that there is a post grad forensic course offered by UFS, I can’t imagine why the maj gen is unaware of this? Makes you wonder how some of these people were hired in such high positions… Not surprised though…