Police trainees skip DNA testing

More than 3 000 police trainees have not had DNA samples taken, yet these are needed to stop criminals from entering the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The trainees joined SAPS academies last year and graduated in December. They are now serving their 12-month probation period.

Background and fingerprint checks have been done, but DNA swabbing also helps to identify anyone linked to evidence gathered at crime scenes.

Although Police Minister Bheki Cele’s office attempted to downplay the failure to take DNA samples, saying they could be taken at any stage during training, police members and an MP who was involved in drafting new legislation to introduce mandatory DNA sampling of the police described it as “outrageous”, “disheartening” and “gross negligence”.

The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act of 2013 requires that samples be taken from all police members and added to an elimination index on the national database so that the DNA of any members can be quickly identified if it’s picked up at crime scenes. Taking trainees’ DNA has been mandatory since 2015. Their DNA can be used to determine “illicit” behaviour and can also be matched against DNA recovered in unsolved cases.

The current failure to test the trainees’ DNA has been raised internally by Major General Sandra Malebe-Thema, the officer in charge of training academies, in four memos to colleagues, in which she warns that it would be “gross negligence to send trainees out to be future police” if they had not undergone DNA tests.

The SAPS’s media desk did not respond to inquiries sent to it last week.

“The whole point is not to train a cop, give a guy a gun, and only then do a swab. In what world does that make sense? It must be done on the first day they arrive at college and if it does raise red flags, they are removed,” said Dianne Kohler Barnard, a Democratic Alliance MP and opposition spokesperson on police, this week.

Kohler Barnard, who serves on parliament’s portfolio committee on police, said procurement corruption in the SAPS’s forensics division had led to police stations running out of DNA and rape kits.

An internal audit report issued in November last year highlighted irregularities in the SAPS’s contract to train officers in the taking of buccal (oral) samples, as well as in taking samples from the active members as part of SAPS’s goal to create a DNA profile of all its members in the database.

The report reveals SAPS has paid R24.5-million to a contractor, Elvis Koena Konsulting (EKK), despite the company allegedly contravening the terms of the contract and invoicing for more officers than actually trained. The report recommends a forensic investigation of the contract, including fruitless expenditure totalling R2.1-million that was incurred by the SAPS.

Cele’s spokesperson, Reneilwe Serero, said, although the testing is a legal requirement, “this does not imply that those buccal samples must be taken whilst recruits are undergoing training”.

“The recent graduates of the various SAPS academies will form part of this process at their place of deployment.

“As part of the recruitment process, the fingerprints of all recruits are obtained and submitted for processing and no candidate with a criminal record is recruited to undergo training. From their date of appointment, should any criminal conduct be registered, internal processes, including dismissal, are instituted.”

Dr Johan Burger, a justice and violence programme consultant at the Institute for Security Studies, said: “I don’t think the buccal samples of SAPS recruits are used to determine their possible ‘illicit behaviour’. They are, or should be, vetted before being appointed into the SAPS on the basis of background checks that include fingerprints for criminal record purposes.”

Kohler Barnard, who was involved in drafting the Bill that resulted in the 2013 amendments and introduction of DNA sampling of police, said: “Here we have again, when you think you have a system set up to try and prevent any criminal — and here we focused on this very carefully — from getting into a uniform with a gun, and here it’s falling at the first hurdle. I’m not surprised but when you work so hard to keep the police clean … blow me down, once again, because of internal chaos, you have got this.”

In 2013, research revealed that more than 1 448 police members had criminal records for crimes ranging from fraud to attempted murder.

Malebe Thema, in one of four internal memos sent to her colleagues at human resource development between May and November 2017, said the Criminal Procedure Amendment Act of 2013 required that all new recruits and appointments to the service should submit a buccal sample to be loaded on to the elimination index of the national forensic DNA database.

“It serves to be mentioned that the memorandum of agreement of a number of police trainees was terminated due to illicit behaviour and, with the delay in the taking of the buccal sample of those who have a record of illicit behaviour and have not yet been detected, [they] may remain undetected and we are nearing to the end of the BPDLP [basic police development learning programme],” she wrote on November 16.

“It is worth noting that this component has explored attempts for this exercise to be implemented but in vain, and it will be gross negligence to send trainees out to be future police members without having been tested for illicit behaviour. As this matter is now long outstanding, a written response by 2018-11-30 will be appreciated,” she added.

According to internal sources, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, one of the problems last year was noncompliance by EKK.

An internal report and a whistleblower letter from a former facilitator at EKK, which was appointed on a two-year contract in 2016, allege the company contravened its contract by:

  • Using two testing kits instead of three (to train, assess and sample);
  • Using a classroom that is not defined as a heath establishment for the workshops, compromising the training and results; and
  • SAPS members not attending the training, resulting in the R2.1-million fruitless expenditure.

A SAPS insider said EKK had been paid, despite the anomalies, on the instruction of divisional commander Hendrick Chauke. “He even signed off the invoices himself after his subordinates refused to sign them because of the noncompliance. He is to blame for the fruitless expenditure because he was informed the company invoices for more people than they actually trained,” said the source.

The Mail & Guardian has seen an EKK invoice for R2.37-million from November 2017 signed and authorised by Chauke, as well as an internal email in which Chauke insists that phase three of the project be continued despite EKK’s noncompliance.

EKK owner Elvis Koena rejected claims that the contract was littered with irregularities, saying he invoiced based on numbers contracted with the SAPS. “The issue of nonattendance was deliberated with SAPS at length and they followed internal processes to deal with issues of nonattendance … Koena Konsulting finds it absurd that short-fall created by internal SAPS system should be passed onto the company.”

Koena also said EKK complied with all requirements of the tender including provision of kits and other material and that there had been no complaints from provinces. He said the issue of doing the training in a medial environment was not raised as an issue by SAPS and his predecessor in the contract also used hotels and conference venues.

“This blatant attack on the company smacks of intention of destroying an upcoming business through spread of malicious half-truths.”

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Sabelo Skiti

Sabelo Skiti is an investigative journalist.

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