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Jul 17, 2012

New lab part of forensic turnaround

Cape Town|DURBAN|Port|Port Elizabeth|Pretoria|Building|Resources|Systems|Training|Service|Systems|Eastern Cape|Northern Cape|Julius Phahlane|Nathi Mthethwa|Riah Phiyega|Eastern Cape

A new forensics laboratory in Cape Town is part of the police's turnaround plan to increase convictions through clear-cut evidence, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said on Tuesday.

"What we are witnessing today is how modernised systems, coupled with the equipped human resources, can... contribute towards an improved turnaround time in terms of processing forensic case work," he said.

"Let this laboratory become a value-add in our efforts of fighting crime... This state-of-the art building must not become a white elephant."

The minister was speaking at the opening of the R600-million lab in Plattekloof, now the fourth forensics facility in the country, which took six years to build.

The lab has been in operation since November, servicing the province, as well as the Northern Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape.

Mthethwa said many had referred to the forensics division as the "backlogs division".

A backlog was any case which took more than 28 working days after arriving at the lab to be finalised.

These backlogs had drastically slowed down conviction of individuals by the courts in the past.

"But we have seen a positive turn-around strategy," Mthethwa said.

The labs had seen a 63 percent caseload increase in the past financial year. Backlogs had decreased by 30 percent within the same period.

He said government had no intention to privatise the laboratories, despite calls by some in the light of the backlogs.

"This decision is further informed by empirical research as well as our international counterparts, who concur with us that privatisation is not a viable option."

The minister said his strategy to boost the division was to acquire more skilled staff to offer an adequate service to all corners of the country.

For 2011/2012, R63 million was set aside for enhancing skills within the division, with a further R35 million earmarked for the current financial year.

Mthethwa was also set on developing a recognised forensics degree, through which graduates could be placed in the field with minimal in-house training if required.

The three other labs are in Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Pretoria. Police used the facilities to process evidence found at crime scenes to paint a picture of perpetrators and their modus operandi.

Just under 7000 staff analysed specimens through ballistics, biology, chemistry, and other means.

According to divisional head Julius Phahlane, the new lab was among the best in the world.

"You will not find a lab of this nature anywhere in the world. We are leading and we are proud to say that," he said.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega said the lab was an added weapon in fighting crimes against women and children.

She said that in the past year, over half of the cases processed by biology staff were for rape and murder.

"These alone show the vulnerability of the main category of victims, which happens to be women and children.

"The launch of this laboratory will go a long way in the eradication of crime against women and children... [and] incidents of substance abuse among our communities."

Edited by: Sapa
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