Cases stack up at police forensic lab

 Police forensic officers comb the scene where AIGP Felix Kaweesi was gunned down by unknown assailants in 2017. The Auditor General’s report says performance of the chemical, biological and radiology laboratories is less than 50 percent. PHOTO/FILE 

What you need to know:

  • Auditor General notes that manpower and equipment shortages have prompted a rise in the number of unresolved cases that had been sent to the laboratory for analysis. 

An audit of the operations of the police’s forensics unit has come to the conclusion that manpower and equipment shortages compromise its mandate.

In his latest report, Auditor General John Muwanga notes that the shortages have prompted a rise in the number of unresolved cases that had been sent to the laboratory for analysis. He adds that besides affecting resolution of crimes, the status quo has also significantly slowed the pace of investigations.

The forensics unit has four laboratories, including one for chemical, biological and radiology tests. There is also another that devotes itself to studying questionable documents. The other two laboratories include one for criminal investigations as well as one for cybercrime and digital forensics.

According to the Auditor General’s report, performance levels of the chemical, biological and radiology analysis laboratories stand at less than 50 percent.

“Out of the 446 cases received for chemical, biological, and radiology analysis, only 203 were analysed and concluded, representing a performance of 46 percent,” the report reveals.
Performance levels at the questionable laboratory documents are much worse. The report puts them at a lowly 29 percent.

“The questionable documents laboratory received 623 cases during the year 2021 in addition to a backlog of 1,161 at the beginning of the year. By the end of [2021], only 511 cases were analysed and concluded,” the report discloses.

No equipment
The report further points out that whereas each scene of crime officer is meant to have a scene of crime kit and camera, this is not the case. Whereas there are 407 scenes of crime officers attached to the crime investigations laboratory, there are only 224 scenes of crime kits, 210 cameras and 108 motorcycles. This scorecard, the report adds, hampers work.

The Auditor General did not, however, list the kind of equipment that was missing.
According to the website, a well-stocked crime scene kit should be equipped with evidence collection tools. These include cotton gloves, surgical gloves, cotton swabs, swatches, plastic evidence bags or paper bags, cellophane tape for lifting prints and rulers to determine size and ratio in crime scene photographs.

Lengthy barrier tapes, emblazoned with the words “Crime Scene -- Do Not Cross” and fingerprint kits and fingerprint processing powders in a variety of colours and fingerprint brushes of various types as well as fingerprint chemicals like iodine and silver nitrate are also listed as mandatory.

Others expected to be found in a crime scene kit include evidence collection tools like hammers, pliers and crowbars, forceps, tweezers, and other items like thermometers, flashlights, batteries, and spotlights and extension cords and evidence containers and packaging materials.


The Auditor General’s report further pointed out that the performance of the cybercrime and digital forensics laboratory stood at only 28 percent. In offering more granular details, it disclosed that only 224 cases were analysed out of the 808 cases that had been received in 2021 and part of 2022.

“This performance affects completion of cases and delays administration of justice,” the Auditor General concluded.

Annual police crime reports for the last three years point to an increase in the number of cybercrimes that were reported. There were 256 cases reported in 2020; 258 cases reported in 2021; and 286 cases reported in 2022.

Mr Aggrey Wunyi, the undersecretary of the Uganda Police Authority, who is also the Force’s accounting officer, declined to address himself to the conclusions of the Auditor General.

“It is true that I am the accounting officer, but I am not the one who talks for the Force. Please talk to Mr [Fred] Enanga, [the spokesperson of the Uganda Police],” he told Saturday Monitor on phone.
The report, however, indicates that Mr Wunyi attributed the failure to lack of funds to hire more staff and equip the forensics laboratory.

According to the report, the Auditor General advised Mr Wunyi to “develop strategies of ensuring that these laboratories are well staffed and equipped in order to improve their effectiveness.”

Whereas Mr Wunyi was tightlipped, information on the police’s website indicates that the only recruitment that has been carried out by the Force since Mr Muwanga released his report was in November last year when 1,297 people, 1,088 being Constables and 209 drivers were recruited.

According to the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, in the United States, one must have a strong fundamental background in natural sciences in order to work in a forensic laboratory.

Even newly hired people who analyse drugs, DNA, trace, and toxicological evidence in forensic science laboratories are required to have degrees in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or forensic science. It therefore looks unlikely that the Force had made any targeted recruitments in line with the Auditor General’s advice.

Besides lack of equipment and inadequate staff, the Auditor General also raised issues around lack of a laboratory information management system software to support the operations of the forensic unit.

“Uganda Police’s Forensics Unit does not have a laboratory information management system to manage its operations. As a result, the unit relies heavily on manual recording, which is cumbersome, inefficient, and prone to errors,” the report notes.

The information management system software would be expected to support the integration of data from the lab with that from other systems to facilitate real-time access and reporting when required.

The system would also support management of samples and tracking of the chain of custody and work flows.

The report indicates that the Auditor General had advised Mr Wunyi to “ensure that implementation of a Laboratory Information Management System is fast tracked for improved operations.”

It was, however, not possible for Monitor to establish whether the Force had followed up on any of the Auditor General’s recommendations. Mr Enanga promised to revert to Monitor  “with details”, but had not done so by press time.