During my 27 years as a forensic expert at the South African Police Service’s Forensic Science Laboratory, I often experienced the lack of understanding of the processes before, during and after a criminal activity or an incident, and especially how these processes influence the outcome of the matter.
The blame for an unsuccessful case is mostly placed at the door of law enforcement departments and officers, while the process actually starts with the owner of the organisation where the incident or the criminal matter took place.
One of the first mistakes is to differentiate between an occupational incident, a disciplinary matter and a criminal case in terms of the records that may be required. The process starts long before the criminal activity or the incident occurs.
Various processes and records need to be in place before a matter can be taken to the criminal court or be part of a disciplinary process.
You may have been successful in the past in securing a positive outcome, but the more the evidence shows someone is guilty, the stronger the defence will become. There is no guarantee as to what the defence or the court will require as evidence, and to start looking for the records then is too late.
If a company becomes known for not having all its records secured, the defence arguments will increase. This will be an expensive exercise, as it will involve cases and incidents that took place in the past, but still need to be argued. Your organisation will get the same requests for the same records on all cases, until the opposite becomes evident. It is a frustrating situation that could have been avoided.
CCTV footage as evidence
The presence of CCTV material became important as evidence in cases during the last few years. This has advantages as well as disadvantages. Organisations and companies equipped with CCTV are familiar with the advantages and already benefit in court. They also became more reliant on CCTV footage as evidence material.
One of the disadvantages is that other types of evidence are neglected and ignored. It is always best practice to secure additional potential evidence for each case and matter.
Furthermore, all evidence needs to be secured in court with all the supporting records such as the chain of custody and evidence, including CCTV evidence. CCTV evidence as digital evidence is even more critical in terms of the required records.
Can your organisation do that? The more CCTV evidence is presented in court, the more the courts are familiarised with this type of evidence, but are also more aware of possible questions.
You need to go all the way
To present and secure evidence in court are both important and both require proper preparation, records and training.
The facts do not ‘speak for themselves’ in court, someone needs to present them, and someone needs to answer the questions. Are your employees prepared and equipped for the process? Will the court or disciplinary officers follow and understand what the facts are and how they contribute to the finding?
The advantage of having standardised processes in place is an important aspect to save valuable time and money in these proceedings. The final step is to perform an evaluation on completion of each case (won or lost) to determine where to improve.
Why is this important?
Too many organisations and companies wait until the suspect(s) test their system and processes or highlight the shortcomings for them, rather than performing regular evaluations beforehand with an internal or independent audit.
Mostly, the basics are ignored and the trend is to depend only on systems which potentially may fail the process for a successful prosecution. Please take note, I refer to the process and not the CCTV images. If the images are good, the process and records must be better. The records must be traceable.
Many organisations are reluctant to ensure the records are in place and traceable as it does require a lot of work initially. However, the reality is that these records are valuable for many processes, including performance evaluations. It also provides a safety net for the organisation and easily becomes a valuable part of the daily activities.
There is no shortcut or an automatic process. Once the records and processes are secured with the assistance of an expert, the maintenance of them does not require much effort, but the contribution to the organisation increases.
It is all about working smarter.
Sonja de Klerk retired from the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratory as a Brigadier. She provides expert advice on CCTV management to secure footage as evidence. She presents training courses on CCTV management for footage to be presented in court, forensic evidence to expect as part of criminal activities, expert testimony in court and the importance of traceable records. Her expertise is also available for independent audits or evaluations, and consultation on the traceability of the records within your organisation. She can be contacted on
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