Misleading view on DNA Database

Chris Asplen’s recent article which was published on our blog and in various newspapers last week, has created much dialogue, most of it positive, except in the case of one letter by a lady who believes that Chris ‘s article was simply an ’emotive polemic’. Click here to read her expert opinion on DNA as a crime fighting tool in SA…

These types of responses irritate me as they throw out allegations without any proof and offer no constructive alternative.

This is what I have to say in response to Ms De Haas, which I have sent to the Editor of the Witness, in which her letter first appeared:

Ms De Haas.
It is in fact you who has a misleading view on the value of a DNA Database as a crime fighting tool. Forensic DNA Databases throughout the world are being used effectively for the investigation, prosecution and deterrence of crime and nowhere in the world has a country reduced the scope of their DNA database precisely for this reason. Chris Asplen is in addition far more experienced on this subject than yourself, who has confused the issue of police corruption with the effectiveness of DNA evidence as one form of evidence in the investigation and prosecution of a case. For someone who claims to be such an expert on the subject, you are not even aware that in South Africa we already have a DNA Database (since 1998 in fact) and the new DNA Bill is seeking to expand and regulate the existing DNA Database in order for it to be used not only on a case by case basis but for criminal intelligence too, for instance to link seemingly unrelated cases or to detect serial criminal activity.

To ensure the successful development of our national DNA Database for this purpose, the proposed DNA Bill does no more than any other country in the world has done to regulate its DNA Database, namely, to determine from whom samples should be taken and how long DNA profiles which are obtained from those samples should be retained on the database. It proposes that trained police officials be allowed to take a DNA sample in the form of a simple cheek swab from suspects who have been arrested as well as convicted offenders, which again is in line with best international best practice and no different from a police officer performing a breathalyser test on a person suspected of drinking and driving in SA (which has never been contested as giving ‘too much power to the police’!).

Interpol, of which SA is a member, states that that the most efficient solution for DNA sample taking is a police officer and there is no other country in the world that requires registered medical practitioners  to take a DNA sample from suspects. The portfolio committee tasked with reviewing the DNA Bill will return from their study tour on which they are embarking upon this week, and they will be addressing all of the above issues in depth. On their return they will also be looking at the implementation of the DNA Bill insofar as far as how the Forensic Lab intend to handle the increased capacity that will impact upon it should the DNA Bill be passed.

For your information, The Forensic Science Lab has further recently decreased its backlog by 19,25% from 59 023 to 47 660 during the 2009/2010 financial year and declined significantly with a further 66% from 47 660 un-assigned entries on the 1st of April 2010 to 16 200 as on the 31st of March 2011, the lowest figure recorded since March 2009. They furthermore currently operate on a  35 day turn-around time.
It is also because DNA is such a strong form of evidence that it is so widely hailed as the gold standard for investigating crime. In the case of the two year old child who was brutally raped a few weeks ago , allegedly by her own father, DNA will be one of the strongest forms of evidence to convict or exclude the father, as the case may be — DNA will be the silent witness in this case Ms de Haas, as the child will not be able to give evidence herself now will she?

Despite your naysaying in a country which yes is beset with issues such as crime scene awareness and alleged police corruption and abuse, are you seriously suggesting that we ignore the value of DNA  where the rape of children and women is such a scourge? Imagine if we were all like you Ms de Haas, and simply through up our arms in the face of tangible and effective crime fighting tools and said ‘give it up, all police are incompetent and corrupt’. Is that an intelligent solution? Why don’t you make a real difference in this country madam, and draft a constructive response to the portfolio committee which proposes workable solutions to your concerns about the DNA Bill in order that together we can ensure that we maximise the potential of DNA and a DNA Database in SA? I hope to see you in Parliament, Ms de Haas, where I certainly will be, because I am prepared to stand up and actually do something to alleviate crime in this country. I am able to look into the face of that two year child who was raped and say that at least I am trying to do something to stop this.


One Response to “Misleading view on DNA Database”

  1. […] previously blogged about a letter criticizing Chris Asplen’s letter in The Witness. The final response published in reaction to […]