Police face huge backlog in DNA sample tests

06 December 2020 - 12:52
The backlog in DNA samples is delaying the outcome of investigations. Stock photo.
The backlog in DNA samples is delaying the outcome of investigations. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Felipe Caparros Cruz

The backlog in DNA samples at the National Forensic Science Laboratories (NFSL) now stands at 117,736, prompting a call for police to consider partnerships with private laboratories in SA.

DA MP Andrew Whitfield said on Sunday that the party had written to national police commissioner Gen Kehla Sitole to request that he urgently investigate partnerships with private laboratories to tackle the backlog.

Whitfield said the Western Cape had the highest backlog at 39,400 followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 3,204 and the Eastern Cape with 2,667.

He said the remainder of the backlog came from the NFSL head office with 72,465 outstanding DNA samples.

Whitfield said while a turnaround plan to tackle the backlog was tabled by SAPS before parliament's police portfolio committee on November 11, the committee had raised serious concerns as to whether it was achievable given capacity challenges, Covid-19  workplace restrictions and many contracts not being in place.

“It has become clear that SAPS has mismanaged the supply chain processes leading to a disruption in the award of contracts bringing testing to a halt. Shortages in consumables and reagent, while currently being addressed, have been a major problem since the second quarter of the 2019/20 financial year,” he said in a statement.

He charged that SAPS had also allowed the maintenance contract for sensitive robotics and other specialised equipment at the Western Cape laboratory to lapse.

“These machines cannot be used until they are calibrated to the correct standard. SAPS must now urgently explore partnerships with well-equipped private laboratories to assist, where possible, in dealing with the backlog in DNA testing. Every day more and more DNA case exhibits arrive at our labs and every day the backlog becomes even more insurmountable,” he added

He said that victims and their families were left suffering, waiting for answers while the perpetrators of violent crimes roamed free, some even committing more crimes.

“DNA remains the most critical piece of evidence in the criminal justice value chain and it must be treated as a priority by ensuring that backlogs of this nature never occur again,” he said.

Divisional commissioner Lt-Gen Michael Mothlala said SAPS had allocated an additional R250m to its forensic services division to deal with procurement problems and the DNA  exhibit backlogs.

Mothlala said a total of 175 promotion posts had been advertised and 69 re-enlistment applications were considered to capacitate the forensic services, among others.

Head of SAPS forensic science laboratories Maj-Gen Edward Ngokha said forensic science laboratory services faced insufficient funding and experienced instability at management level.

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