Forensic evidence backlog stands at more than 170 000, police committee 'horrified'

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The police have a heavy backlog in forensics.
The police have a heavy backlog in forensics.
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  • The police's forensic case exhibit backlog continues to grow, currently standing at 172 787 cases.
  • It is increasing despite the police's turnaround strategy announced in November.
  • The Portfolio Committee on Police is "horrified", while Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale is "not excited".

A forensic case exhibit backlog continues to increase, but the police's laboratories have not processed a single forensic exhibit in January and February this year.

This was revealed at a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Police on Tuesday.

Last year in November, Police Minister Bheki Cele told the committee the backlog was 117 738 cases.

At that meeting, the police also presented a plan to eradicate the backlog.

READ | SIU PPE probe reveals 'flagrant disregard of law'

However, at the end of December, the backlog was 142 504 cases, according to Mark Rogers of the National Forensics Oversight and Ethics Board.

On Tuesday, it stood at 172 787 cases, said Major-General Edward Ngokha, head of the police's National Forensic Science Laboratories (NFSL).

Ngokha confirmed that they have not done any processing during January and February.

"We're running short of some consumables," he said.

Contracts

Processes are underway to obtain contracts for the needed consumables. He said they have been waiting for three weeks for feedback from National Treasury for a deviation to procure "qualification kits".

On Tuesday, he said they heard that the deviation from the supply chain management processes was approved for this purchase.

However, they can only spend up to R500 000 when making use of a deviation, and the supplies purchased with this amount will only last for two weeks.

"Once the contracts are appointed, the process will run smoothly," Ngokha said.

Deputy Police Minister Cassel Mathale said: "As the leadership of the institution, we are not excited by the delays experienced."

Mathale said they will "try to ensure that things get resolved".

Committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson summarised the committee's feeling as follows: "We are horrified."

In a statement released after the meeting, Joemat-Pettersson said the backlog of over 172 000 cases is unacceptable. Since the committee's inception after the May 2019 elections, it has raised its concern about the backlog, which has a direct impact on the entire criminal justice value chain.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson
Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

"The fight against the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV) is compromised by the inability of the Forensic Science Laboratory to timeously conclude their analysis. The fight against GBV requires a Forensic Science Laboratory functioning optimally to ensure that prosecutions are scientific, evidence-based and timely," said Joemat-Pettersson.

The committee instructed the newly-appointed National Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board to urgently assist in finding solutions to the dysfunctional state of the laboratories.

DA spokesperson Andrew Whitfield said, in a statement released after the meeting, that the police's turnaround strategy regarding forensic and DNA testing backlogs is "failing while thousands of victims of crime await justice".

He called on national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla Sitole and Cele to engage with private laboratories as the continued increase in unprocessed DNA case exhibits is holding up the wheels of justice, and this situation must not be allowed to continue.

"The NFSL would not be facing these dire circumstances had SAPS not mismanaged the supply chain processes and urgently addressed the collapse of its contract management capacity," he said.   

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