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Two months ago, a squabble started between an opposition MP and the National Prosecuting Authority over the criminal conviction rate.
One argued 90 percent success, the other tore into this calculation, accusing the prosecutors of creative methods in reaching that number. She put the rate at 29.48 percent two years ago, even less previous to that.
Statistics, and conclusions from them, are famously manipulable. Was it a ninety percent success rate or less than one in three convictions? The formulas differ markedly and the gap they create is irreconcilable.
The court of public opinion will instinctively incline to the figures of failure. Judging by the flourishing security industry and the general fear of crime, the national mood is that the war on crime is not being won – worse, many believe, it is being lost.
A study by our watchdog on our civil service, the Public Service Administration, has unearthed on a tour of police stations in all the provinces that our detection capacity is hamstrung by a lack of training. Of the 25 000 or so SAPS sleuths, 4 845 have not had the basic detection course. Those who have report that there is no further tuition to upgrade or keep apace with technology and crime-fighting advances.
The PSA’s figures are at odds, too, with those of police headquarters. But even if they differ, and the resources are not as alarming as the PSA made out in its report tabled in Parliament on Friday, how can any detective be sufficiently equipped if he or she is not given a grounding in the art of crime detection?
Maybe this is part of the explanation, then, for a distressing conviction rate which allows criminals to believe that they can get away with it, and fans disdain among them for our thin blue line.
It also might explain the continuing method of information extraction rather than good detection to bring offenders to court.