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Turnaround plan to tackle DNA backlog

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The police have implemented a turnaround strategy on its DNA backlog saga, and have adopted a project plan-driven approach to finalise the backlog.

The police have implemented a turnaround strategy on its DNA backlog saga, and have adopted a project plan-driven approach to finalise the backlog. Photographer: Tracey Adams/African News Agency

Cape Town – The police have implemented a turnaround strategy on its DNA backlog saga, and have adopted a project plan-driven approach to finalise the backlog.

This after an outcry by civil society organisations that its forensic science laboratory’s electronic registry system has been down for almost a year, and had an enormous impact on the handing over and processing of DNA tests as it was now done manually.

Police spokesperson Brenda Muridili said the root cause analysis contributing to DNA backlog was conducted and interventions were being implemented to address the backlog in a sustainable and effective manner.

Muridili said an additional operational budget was allocated to prioritise DNA backlogs, the archiving and retrieval of documents contract was acquired for two years.

“Dedicated overtime was allocated to the Forensic Science Laboratory for the processing of the DNA backlog and manual track and trace exhibits,” said Muridili.

She said all critical contracts to support the DNA processing have been approved and those that were outstanding were receiving the highest priority, and that medical surveillance of outstanding forensic analysts was being prioritised by the service provider.

Civil rights group Action Society’s spokesperson Rineé Pretorius said during the national forensic oversight ethics board meeting with the portfolio committee on police and head of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), last week, it was confirmed that the current DNA backlog stood at 172 787 cases for the months of January and February 2021, with no DNA evidence processed.

Pretorius said those numbers were increasing as the DNA board has set out an action plan as it struggled to sort out issues ranging from procurement of DNA chemistry and consumables, dysfunctional contract management, poor leadership within the police as well as IT problems.

She said the pressure group has been worried that the ongoing problem would bring the country’s justice system to its knees as hundreds of thousands of criminals were roaming free, probably re-offending, due to a lack of DNA evidence not being able to be presented in court.

Community safety standing committee chairperson in the Western Cape legislature, Reagan Allen, said it has also been revealed that the DNA testing backlog increased by 51% at a national level since October last year, despite the announcement of a turnaround plan.

“If we are to follow the same trend in the Western Cape, the new DNA testing backlog could be as large as 60 400 samples to date,” said Allen.

He said it was even more concerning when considering the evident spike in criminal activity across the Cape Flats last week, and that the president declared gender-based violence a second pandemic.

“However, with a backlog of 172 000 samples, we are not seeing enough done to support the criminal justice system and the need for retribution,” he said.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on police chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said another serious concern was that because of delayed laboratory results, families sometimes have to wait for two years to bury their loved ones who were victims of crime.

Cape Argus