Today the Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko and National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega publicly released the national crime statistics for the 2013-2014 financial year. The statistics show a 5% increase in the number of murders, a 4.6% increase in the numBer of attempted murders and 12.7% increase in robbery with aggravating circumstances over the past year. The 17,068 murders represents the most murders recorded since 2008/2009. While the number of reported contact crimes as a whole increased slightly by 0.5% there was a 5.6% decrease in total sexual offences and a 3.3% decrease in common assault.
Over the last decade the number of reported crimes for major crime categories have generally seen steady declines. However, in recent years a number of key crime categories have seen a worrying reversal of this trend. What the crime statistics cannot show is that crime is concentrated and is not experienced proportionately meaning that a closer examination at provincial and station level is necessary to assess conditions. The Western Cape where our organisations are based experienced a substantial 12.8% increase in the number of murders over the past from 2,580 to 2,909. This represents a ratio of 48.3 murder per 100,000, well exceeding the national average of 32.2.
Findings of the O’Regan-Pikoli Commission relating to crime statistics
Earlier this year the O’Regan-Pikoli Commission of Inquiry held its public hearings to investigate allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between the community and the SAPS in Khayelitsha. The crime statistics for the three police stations in Khayelitsha when combined record the highest number of violent crimes in the country year on year. The Commission’s report released in August made a number of findings and recommendations relating to crime statistics and how they can be use most effectively.
The Commission found that there is a strong link between the accurate recording and reporting of crime statistics and the relationship between the police and the community and questioned the accuracy of crime statistics. According to SAPS’ testimony before the Commission, police stations across the country have an average error rate of 10-11%. This is because reported crimes are classified incorrectly; only one crime is recorded when the docket actually involves multiple charges; or because reported crimes are simply not registered. It is vital that crime is properly recorded because this impacts on budgets, planning, resources, community relations and ultimately safety.
The Commission was presented with compelling evidence that you cannot reliably use crime statistics as the sole measure to judge police performance. This is because all crimes are lumped together whereas in practice some crimes are far easier to police than others. For example, it is accepted that contact crimes such as murder are very difficult to police because they usually occur between people who know one another. To see whether the police are doing a good job requires an inspection of a number of other indicators.
Currently crime statistics are released in September for the previous financial year, ending in March. This means that by the time crime statistics are released to the public they contain data that is between six and eighteen months out of date. While the Commission found that this practice cannot be blamed for the breakdown in the relationship between the community and SAPS, it also found that “regular and timely release of crime statistics can foster good relations between SAPS and the broader community”.
The Way Forward
Accurate performance measures are needed in order to assess the success of crime prevention and crime combating strategies. If crime statistics are going to be used as a reliable measure they must be disaggregated into more and less policable crimes. In addition, crimes such as vigilantism and xenophobic crime need to be classified as such so that a proper response can be developed.
The Commission recommended that publishing station level crime statistics “on a monthly basis on notice boards in [Community Service Centres] could improve the relations between SAPS and the community”. Multiple experts before the Commission said that the more regular release of crime statistics would help communities identify and respond effectively to crime challenges. Credible quarterly analysis of crime statistics was also identified by the experts as an important way to ensure the usefulness of these statistics.
It is imperative that the SAPS implement the Commission’s recommendations. Our organisations will be engaging the SAPS on this and a number of other matters that have emerged in the Commission’s report. We will issue a follow-up statement once the statistics have been released at station level.
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