ALL officers in the South African Police Service (SAPS) should be trained in crime scene protection to promote more successful detective work, a top-level parliamentary report has recommended.
The report follows hearings of the police portfolio committee during which civil society, MPs and the SAPS discussed the parlous state of training in the detective service. It emerged that thousands of detectives had no training at all.
Concern was raised that police were filmed handling material evidence without taking the required measures to protect the integrity of the crime scene during the shooting of 34 miners at Marikana.
The police portfolio committee is to forward the report of the hearings to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
The report noted that "proper protection of the crime scene is essential for effective investigation". Training on crime scene management had to be an integral part of the SAPS basic training curriculum.
In addition, training on crime scene management had to be rolled out to all existing members of the SAPS including visible policing members.
The committee urged the SAPS to make use of private partnerships for training in highly specialised fields and the use of retired detectives to run mentorship programmes for aspiring detectives.
Vanessa Lynch, executive director of the DNA Project, said preserving the crime scene was crucial to solving crimes. In most cases, "you only have one chance" to secure evidence that linked perpetrators to the crime committed.
The DNA Project is a nonprofit organisation that promotes the use of DNA and other forensic evidence in the resolution of crimes.
Ms Lynch said the DNA Project was involved in running free workshops with members of the visible policing unit in the Western Cape. This was to create awareness of the value of DNA evidence from sources such as saliva, blood and hair at the crime scene.
Its workshops taught the importance of cordoning off the crime scene to protect potential evidence from being inadvertently destroyed, damaged or removed.
"First-on-crime responders", such as members of community policing forums, security companies and paramedics, were also attending the workshops.
The police portfolio committee bemoaned the low number of detectives in the SAPS, saying that the service, the police secretariat and the public service administration had to "establish the number of detectives currently functioning".
A skills audit had to be conducted to identify the detectives’ training needs based on this number.
"The ideal number of detectives required must be established using scientific models appropriate to the South African context, under the civilian secretariat for police."
The committee acknowledged the demoralising effect of corruption on the detective service and reiterated the importance of integrity management.
"It is recommended that the internal anticorruption strategy of the SAPS must be intensified and a clear message sent out on a zero-tolerance approach for those guilty of corruption," the report says.
"It is further recommended that all unions associated with the SAPS must play a leadership role in ensuring that their members understand the union’s commitment to zero tolerance towards corruption."
The portfolio committee said it had resolved to elevate the report to the level of the police minister and asked the management of the detective services and the police secretariat to develop a comprehensive response to its recommendations.
The programme to resolve the shortcomings the report highlighted "must be driven by the ministry and not left to the management of the SAPS where it runs the risk of being placed on the back burner".