The police’s e-docket system will not be fully functional by March 31 next year, the latest deadline in a long-running quest to move this critical lynchpin of the criminal justice system into the electronic age. Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa says 380 185 dockets at 201 police stations had been scanned by the end of May.
But Dr Johann Burger at the Institute for Security Studies says the police generate some two million dockets every year. That means about six million dockets would have been opened since the project started in September 2008. In addition, Mthethwa in answer to a Parliamentary question, added 915 out of 1116 police stations still do not use the system. In response to a question by Democratic Alliance deputy police shadow minister Diane Schäfer, he said police are “following a phase-in approach with the implementation.”
He noted the “successful implementation [of the e-docket system] is dependent on the availability of suitable scanners, network capacity and resources. The network upgrading is however dependant on the commitment and support of a third party namely SITA [the troubled State Information Technology Agency]. The SITA processes might however be a major role player in the success of this implementation.
“However as I mentioned in my budget speech there is now a process that is being developed as part of the CJS [Criminal Justice System] review to address blockages and to speed up the roll of the e-docket system.” Mthethwa’s latest figures is a leap from those in May when 193 stations and some 260 000 dockets had been given. The scanning started at 60 stations and was meant to be complete at all by next March.
The e-docket system entails the capturing, either though typing or scanning, of physical dockets into a national digital database. But not much more is known about it, despite attempts by the DA to solicit more information in the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police or by way of Parliamentary questions. Neither Burger nor the DA MPs are sure in detail what the e-docket entails, whether it is a complete or just a partial copy of the paper docket – or what its legal standing might be. “One expects they got legal advice on that,” ventures Burger.
An ISS opinion piece by Bilkis Omar in August last year suggested each e-docket is first indexed and registered on the Crime Administration System (CAS) before being scanned on a centralised system, accessible at the SAPS Information and System Management (ISM) component at head office. “No scanning images are stored at station level and once the information has been stored, it cannot be deleted,” she said. The added benefit of the system is the ability of ISM to undertake audit trails of dockets within the new system. An additional benefit of the system to complainants and the police is a SMS notification system. “This is meant to alleviate much of the other challenges facing police, and mostly detectives, at stations.” It provides:
CAS numbers to complainants once the case is registered
Updates on cases to complainants, for example, if the case is transferred to another investigating officer, this will be communicated to the complainant via sms.
Minimal paperwork for the police and eases delivery of information to complainants.
Whether this is the case is unclear.
The e-docket system is part of a wider IT upgrade in the police service and in the justice cluster. Other initiatives include finally digitising the police photographic archive, automating the the criminal administration system (CAS), as well as a Property Control and Exhibit Management (PCEM) system to link the country’s police stations and about 760 courts. Other policing IT priorities are upgrades to the Forensic Science Laboratory and geospatial information systems for border control. Police stations are also getting their own command-and-control centres.
Depending on one’s point of view, the state has either been fast or slow to embrace IT in the fight against crime. National Prosecuting Authority acting Chief Information Officer (CIO) Marnus Steyn told ITWeb’s iweek magazine in June 2008 that the the state has been working on an integrated justice system (IJS) since 1995. This, he said, was “a massively complex transversal ‘crime to time’ business process re-engineering scheme that when completed will give the appropriate people the appropriate information at the appropriate time to successfully prosecute crime, administer the courts and rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders.
Steyn said the IJS had two legs, one civil, to deal with divorce, delict and the like, and one criminal. Within the Department of Justice (DOJ), the NPA was at the time responsible for the latter. Departments and agencies involved with the NPA in creating a working integrated criminal justice system (ICJS) were the police, the NPA, the DOJ and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). Thy were subsequently joined by the National Treasury and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). “To build an ICJS is a huge challenge, and I don’t think we realised this when the initiative started in 1995. We knew it would be a whale we had to eat, but we didn’t know the size of it, and it has taken a long time to get to grips with the problem,” Steyn told iweek.
The NPA IT chief – and former prosecutor – added that a number of factors bedevilled the project in its early years – and they would be familiar to most readers. This included a lack of understanding, trust and cooperation, turf wars, complex and unmapped processes and an absence of appropriate technology. “Much of ICJS involves incredibly complex processes and it takes an incredible amount of time to get your head around them because for nearly every rule there’s an exception.” Steyn says much of the technology side of the ICJS involves integration and for a long time this was an IT soft spot. This has changed with the advent of open standards and software engineering tools such as K2 and SharePoint. “It is so easy to integrate now in comparison to when we started.”
The second leap forward was the mapping, simplification and standardisation of processes across ICJS departments, while the third was the development of cooperation, coordination and mutual trust, enabled in part through a number of boards and steering committees. The keystone of this pyramid is the Developers’ Board, consisting of the directors general of the contributing departments. Answering to them is the IJS board chaired in 2008 by DOJ CIO Sharon Thomas.
Below these august bodies were a number of steering committees, including one tasked with architecture and another coordinating the development of SAJXML, the SA Justice Extensible Markup Language. Modelled on a similar US XML and under development under the auspices of the SITA, Steyn says SAJXML will bring about “a new level of interoperability” in the fight against crime.
The big question at the time of the interview – and now – is “by when?” Steyn said the pieces of NPA ICJS were scheduled to fall into place from 2009 “and all should be in place by 2011”, but that was in 2008. The police and prisons may take a while longer. For the prisons this includes a CCTV network linking them to the courts so that routine postponements can be remotely witnessed by the detainee – without the need to transport them to and from court, a process fraught with possibilities of escape. The DCS have also invested in biometric gates and CCTV surveillance inside prisons and have trialled e-tagging solutions to track parolees after their release and awaiting trial detainees inside prison. DCS IT deputy commissioner Jack Shilubane has sung the system’s praises in Parliament but did not say when it would become ubiquitous.
THE NPA ICJS ARCHITECTURE
The NPA ICJS toolset consists of a
Unreported cases database
Prosecutorial experts database
Prosecutorial case flow managmentsystem
Prosecutorial schedule and resources management system
Criminal assets recovery system
Electronic case management system
Management and tracking system
IN ADDITION TO THE NPA’S INITIATIVES, THE DOJ IS IMPLEMENTING
An “e-Scheduler” case management solution for the courts that allows Chief Magistrates and Judges President to allocate cases to magistrates and judges, manage workflow and allocate courts
A “Justice Deposit Account System” to track trust monies, bail and maintenance payments
A digital court recording system
A workflow system for the Legal Aid Board
A “transversal hub” to act as a nodal point between ICJS departments and the Social Development Department
The police’s CAS, the Legal Aid Board and the courts’ e-Scheduler to facilitate the electronic transfer of pertinent data
The e-Scheduler and the prison department’s admissions and release system (A&RS) for inmates
CAS and “Crimm”, the system that contains the criminal histories of those who have had run-ins with the law
Crimm, the A&RS as well as the Home Affairs National Identification System (Hanis), the Automated Finger Printing System (AFIS), the Live Scan fingerprinting system and the national photographic system to allow for fingerprint or “mug shot” verification