'Don't outsource DNA database'

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Despite concerns to the contrary, the police services has the capacity to administer and manage the national DNA database, says the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

Parliament recently warned against the hasty implementation of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Bill. It said the South African Police Service (SAPS) had to solve capacity shortages, and improve its implementation and maintenance plans for the national database.

Outsourcing IT and technology services by the police is also increasing as issues of capacity and skills have become pivotal. But the union is fighting back, saying more money should be ploughed into the police services.

Popcru is calling for further amendments to the Bill, saying it does not clarify which body will serve as custodian of the database.

“It looks as if the DNA database will be administered and maintained by the SAPS, but will, in fact, be outsourced... Why outsource the national DNA database? The billions of rands, which will be invested by the state in outsourcing this function, will only last five years,” says the union.

Popcru says the SAPS Criminal Record and Forensic Science Service division (CR and FSS) should manage the database. The unit currently houses its Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and Popcru says the two major databases should be administered and managed by the same division.

On the defensive

Parliament and rights groups have slated the performance of the division for the high cost of training, low salaries, high staff turnover and problems relating to evidence collection at crime scenes.

However, Popcru says the turnover times have improved over the years, signalling progress in its IT systems and technology management.

Outsourcing the database amounts to contracting out the police's most critical mandate and its core business to private companies, says Popcru. Existing technologies and internal IT systems can lead to the successful implementation of the database, the union notes.

“Popcru is recommending that the national DNA database is administered, maintained and stored by the divisional commissioner of CR and FSS - as with the fingerprint database.

“We also recommend that the billions of rands invested in establishing the DNA database by the outsourced company be redirected and invested to building capacity and proper resourcing of the SAPS forensic science laboratories in all provinces,” says Popcru.

Popcru admission

In 2005, the SAPS lab developed a forensic automation system for DNA evidence using robotics. The Genetic Sample Processing System (GSPS), which is controlled by 27 personal computers, cost approximately R80 million. The system first became operational in March 2007.

“The GSPS system, from the police's side, at least, has improved the SAPS's capacity to process DNA samples. As there has already been a marked improvement in case backlogs, the GSPS system will improve DNA testing by an even bigger margin,” says Popcru.

However, the administration and management of the system is outsourced to a German company.

In October 2006, the Ideco group was awarded a 15-year contract to operate the AFISwitch. The automated checking service, which acts as an electronic information conduit between the centre and the public, was outsourced as the SAPS struggled to process close to a million non-criminal record checks yearly.

While the High Technology Project Centre, which promotes skills and technology to support investigators is valuable, more needs to be done to attract and retain skilled personnel, admits Popcru.

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