Heard on Radio 702 today

For those of you who listened to the Redi Thlabi show on Cape Talk/Radio 702 this morning (1/11/11), you would have heard the comments made by David Klatzow in respect of DNA Profiling in South Africa as well the responses called in by Carolyn Hancock and Vanessa Lynch to those issues. Here are the two clips to the show if you missed them, the interview starts on clip 1 from 12:15 and continues through the entire second clip. Or you can listen to the podcast here. We would like to hear from you. Did you agree with Klatzow? Please, post your comments below.

Redi Thlabi

Redi Thlabi

These are some of the points which need to be considered:
1. Whilst we agree that everyone is entitled to their own point of view and open debate is essential in our society, we believe that the interview was not balanced and that Klatzow mislead the public on a number of issues. These include:

  • It was never mentioned that South Africa does already have a DNA Database – there are 133 000 profiles on this database which is held by the Forensic Science Laboratory (a division of SAPS).
  • Klatzow mentioned the “fabrication” of DNA evidence and the technology (PCR) which can be used to make multiple copies of DNA. Yes, this technology does exist but PCR is not used to make copies of the entire genetic makeup of an individual. To the best of our knowledge, no one has actually MADE DNA and then taken it to plant at a crime scene….. this is misleading to the public. IF someone had access to a vial of blood they could potentially use that to plant at a scene BUT any type of evidence e.g. a weapon, fingerprints etc can all potentially be planted at a scene. DNA is only one form of evidence in a case and no judge would convict someone on the basis of evidence that could not be substantiated.  Furthermore, criminals would generally not have access to technology such as PCR and certainly not your average police officer arriving at a scene – all of whom were made out to seem corrupt and incompetent in the interview.
  • A DNA profile for forensic use and entry onto the Database does not contain any personal information -it is simply a list of numbers used as a unique identifier. This list of numbers is all that is kept in a database. If a match is made between a profile on the database (suspect) and a crime scene profile then the investigating officer would be informed and a fresh sample taken from the suspect to verify the results.
  • The results produced at the State DNA Laboratory are highly reliable and seldom contested in court. We have highly trained personnel who are extremely competent and work tirelessly, for very little, to produce these results.
  • David Klatzow seemed to know very little about the current legislation before Parliament where many of the issues he raised are being debated. He implied that this debate needs to be started….. it started in 2008 when the draft Bill was first considered. The issues have even been publicly debated in Parliament.  The DNA project made a submission, as did the NPA and the Human Rights Commission amongst others. Klatzow however, was not there. Just last week two separate conferences on Forensic Science and the use of DNA were held in Pretoria and once again independent stakeholders, SAPS, public prosecutors and international experts in the field attended – and debated relevant issues. Dr. Klatzow was not there.
  • There is currently no backlog of DNA cases where the State has a suspect. The Biology Unit has been working extremely hard to effectively reduce this backlog. It should not be confused with the backlog at the at the toxicology lab which falls under the Department of Health.

Whilst we totally agree that the police services require additional training on crime scene preservation we believe that they are currently involved with numerous training initiatives and are aware of the problem. Simply throwing one’s hands in the air and declaring the entire police force incompetent is not a constructive solution to the problem. The DNA Project is currently conducting crime scene awareness training for all people who may be the first at a scene, including security guards and paramedics. We have also been instrumental in developing a specialised postgraduate degree for the training of forensic DNA analysts. This degree is already offered at 3 Universities in the country and in this way some capacity issues are being addressed.

Yes, there are a number of issues which need to be considered, including crime scene management and the proper collection of evidence, and the management and administration of the database. All these are critically important.

However, we were saddened by what was a biased interview which did not fully highlight the positive developments in the country, the incredible work done by many State employees and the lack clarification of some of the facts above.

Unfortunately crime in South Africa is an emotive issue – it affects us all and criminals need to be held accountable for there actions. DNA is one of the most effective tools at our disposal to objectively link a suspect to a scene – let’s not cloud people’s judgement by dwelling on the negative – we need to come up with constructive solutions to the unacceptably high levels of crime in our beautiful country.

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