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Missing dockets

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The number of missing dockets is a clear indication that station commanders are failing in their duties

IN 2008, then police minister Nathi Mthethwa announced the roll-out of an electronic docket system to 193 police stations and heightened inspections to crack down on lost and stolen dockets. At the time, 260 000 dockets had already been scanned and entered into the police’s systems, and it was expected that e-dockets would be introduced to police stations across the country.

The Investigation Case Docket Management System was described as an integrated justice system, and would allow officers and detectives to create e-dockets that would also be connected to the courts. The system would automatically SMS case numbers to complainants once the case was registered, and updates on cases – if the case was transferred to another investigating officer, for example – would similarly be communicated via SMS.

Each case docket would be indexed and registered on the Crime Administration System before being scanned on a central system, accessible at the SAPS Information and System Management component at head office. No scans would be stored at station level, and once the information was stored, it couldn’t be deleted.

So why, 10 years later, are we still learning that 658 case dockets went missing from detective services around the country in the past five years, as we reported recently?

Missing dockets result in miscarriages of justice for victims and complainants who depend on the criminal justice system for redress for their suffering.

The theft of dockets negates the hard work involved in tracking down and arresting those wanted for crime, and helps the guilty to walk free. In the current paper-centred system, the police use lockable steel cabinets and registers to safeguard and control the movement of dockets, and regular inspections and audits are expected to be conducted.

The number of missing dockets is a clear indication that station commanders are failing in their duties.

And only eight people have been successfully prosecuted in connection with missing dockets, five of them police officers.

There is no reason to believe the theft of dockets will stop if there appear to be no consequences for the practice.

The discovery of a missing docket should be followed immediately by the suspension of the detective responsible, the detective branch head and the station commander, and then a thorough investigation to find the guilty party.

Then perhaps people will start taking the safety of dockets seriously.