Fugitive blunder raises ID red flag

2014-11-18 00:00

A POLICE manhunt for a triple murder suspect ended abruptly when it was discovered that he was already behind bars.

The faux pas, and his arrest in the confines of a cell, has highlighted the crippling absence of technology needed to track and identify detainees.

A mothballed IT project dubbed the Unique Person Identifier is at the centre of the system, funded by a ring-fenced budget valued in the hundreds of millions.

Now, almost three years after it was given priority status, the system is no closer to being rolled out as pressure from Parliament mounts.

While the project is stalled indefinitely, the country’s most dangerous criminals easily circumvent systems employed by the justice cluster.

Police admitted to the blunder yesterday, saying that a 27-year-old triple murder suspect had been located at Eshowe Prison.

The man, sought for the bloody slaying of three Numsa members last month, had been nabbed for an armed robbery.

“He was arrested by Durban Organised Crime Unit and Sundumbili detectives after they received information that he was detained in Eshowe Prison for an armed robbery case,” said spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane.

His detention from detention has highlighted the need for the system, which assigns a unique key to every individual who enters the criminal justice system.

This key would encompass criminal history, finger prints, facial and eye recognition, DNA and wanted status, all pivotal in tracking the movement of criminals between the police, the court system and then within the prison system.

According to documents obtained by The Witness, the development of these crime-fighting systems was put out to tender for the first time in 2008.

In August last year, Department of Justice D-G Nonkululeko Sindane wrote to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, decrying the delay in rolling out the project.

“The achievements of this programme to date remain far from what was envisaged based on the investment made in monetary terms. It has been noted that there is growing concern among key stakeholders including cabinet ministers and Parliament that the delivery of the programme and its visibility is not in line with the expectations to a point that it is beginning to attract negative publicity,” the letter reads.

At the time of writing, Sindane said the project had been more that 18 months behind schedule and “the actual development has not yet started”.

A tender for this project was then cancelled in November.

In the cancellation note, Phiyega is accused of sidelining the project.

“The national commissioner issued an instruction to have this tender cancelled as she believes that it is not a priority of the SAPS.”

National police spokespeople did not respond to written questions at the time of going to press.

DEMOCRATIC Alliance shadow police minister Dianne Kohler-Barnard said that without a solid system, criminals would walk free.

“This man may well have been released after a short term in prison, and walked away from a triple murder free as a bird.

“This is the inevitable outcome of the shoddy manner in which the SAPS is being run. How is it possible in this day and age that a police service in a democracy lacks this most basic tool? How many murderers have been picked up and released because the hand-held fingerprint ID machines promised for every police vehicle in the country, simply failed to materialise?” she asked.

She said that “creative tendering” had crippled the capability of the police.

“I know exactly what is happening. Tender after tender after tender is called, each one slightly changed to craft it to suit a particular company. It is not awarded until the right, which most certainly doesn’t mean the best, company wins.

“Sadly, this is the way in which the SAPS is run today. Not as a professional service, which would and should become an employer of choice, but a bumbling entity which lurches from one catastrophe to the next,” Kohler-Barnard added.

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