Police DNA Bill ‘hasty’

The South African Police Services (SAPS) has come under fire for trying to rush through the implementation of its DNA Bill, despite not having the funding and capacity to implement or maintain the database.
Patricia Whittle, researcher with the Parliamentary Research Unit, says as resources are not readily available, the processes to implement the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill should not be rushed.
She adds that creating a database riddled with errors will only cause the criminal justice system more harm and “lay more problems at government’s door”.
The urgent nature of the Bill has been emphasised from the early stages. Parliament’s portfolio committee planned to sign off on the Bill in the first half of 2009, but in March the Bill was shelved as elections approached. The outgoing committee said, at the time, that the Bill was still an important part of criminal law and that it should be prioritised by the next Parliament.
However, Whittle states that, if the Bill was to be signed off now, it would only “tarnish the integrity of the criminal justice system”.
“The SAPS should have the proper forensic experts, training, equipment and facilities in place before the Bill comes into operation, in order to achieve the objectives of the Bill. Considering the shortage of forensics personnel, will the SAPS be in a position to deliver the required forensics personnel capacity?”
The proposed legislation would allow for the creation of an extensive DNA profiling system, with the aim of strengthening the police services’ crime-fighting initiatives.
The amendment Bill provides for the expansion of the SAPS’ powers to take and retain fingerprint and DNA samples. It also allows for the establishment, administration and use of a DNA database as a criminal intelligence tool.
The Act would create a database, using biometric technology, which would allow for DNA profiling, DNA typing, DNA fingerprinting or genetic fingerprinting. The profiling system would be linked to the Department of Home Affairs’ Hanis system and Department of Transport’s eNatis system.
The database would also interface with the SAPS’ automated fingerprint identification system, and the capturing of digital fingerprints using electronic fingerprint biometrics technology would also be used.
Whittle says the SAPS needs to give more consideration to all aspects of biometric evidence, especially DNA and fingerprinting. The SAPS has not thought out all aspects of this Bill, including the cost of maintaining it, she adds.
“The department still has to provide more details in respect of the costing of the Bill, estimated at R8 billion to R9 billion, as well as plans and phases for roll-out. The maintaining of database comes at a cost. Corruption among law enforcement agencies would further require some serious safeguard measures against fraudulent manipulation of DNA samples, and this would boil down to recruiting highly-competent, qualified and fit personnel.”
The SAPS admits the final cost for the implementation and maintenance of the database hasn’t been finalised and that it is still trying to secure funding. Despite previously stating the implementation of the Bill would cost R7.5 billion, the SAPS says it would need R8 billion to R9 billion for the implementation alone.
“The Bill has been provisionally costed and a business plan has been developed to map the incremental implementation of the Bill. National Treasury has been consulted in order to secure a budget for the implementation of the Bill,” says the SAPS.
Following an inquiry into the required budget in February, the parliamentary committee on police reported that a minimum of R7.5 billion would be needed for the creation of the system; R2 billion has since been budgeted for the reference samples from private laboratories over a five-year period.
Another R3 billion would also have to be budgeted – also over the same five-year period – to build the SAPS’ crime scene and reference sample capacity. A further R2.5 billion would be needed for the expansion of the police fingerprint database and to link it with other databases.