• The South African Police Service receives R3.5 billion per year for science and technological activities. 
  • The allocation is higher than that of health, new figures show.
  • It is not clear just how the police spend that money, or whether it was worth it.

Crime-fighting science gets more money than science activities in the department of health in South Africa, according the latest Survey on Government Funding for Scientific and Technological Activities for 2016-17.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) received R3.49-billion in 2016-17 – accounting for 15% of government’s total spend on science and technology.

This funding, according to the survey, goes towards information and communication technologies (ICT) for detective and forensic services, among other infrastructure.

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“Forensic services provide specialised evidence-related technical analysis and support to investigations,” it says.

The only government department which receives more than the police for science is the department of science and technology – which exists to promote and fund science in the country. It received R7.4-billion.

The police’s science allocation was more than that of higher education’s (R3.4-billion) and more than double the amount allocated to science activities in the department of basic education (R1.4-billion) and the department of health (R1.2-billion).

The majority of the police's science and technology funding went toward forensics, said SAPS spokesperson Major-General Sally De Beer, though she was unable to give a breakdown as to how it was spent.

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Whether such a hefty allocation to the police for science is justified depends on whether it resulted in measurable improvements in the criminal justice system, said Gareth Newham, head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS).

“The police open around 2,1-million cases each year and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) finalise between 300,000 and 400,000 cases,” he said.

“It would be interesting to know what proportion of these cases are assisted by forensics and whether this is increasing or not in line with the expenditure patterns.”

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