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Crime figures have always been a political hot potato. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the ISS’s Gareth Newham debate the issue.
The release of crime statistics cannot be equated to a political point-scoring event, says Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
Johannesburg - THIS week, as we shared with the nation the national crime statistics for the period April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013, some questioned the frequency of the statistics, suggesting the government should release them monthly.
The release of crime statistics cannot be equated to a political point-scoring event by those who seek to derail our plans. We have cautioned before that some may be tempted to grandstand; they can do so at the expense of other matters, but not crime. This is a matter of life and death, literally.
We urge those who have been calling for such regular release of crime statistics to join and engage with the community policing forums at their local level, where crime statistics are discussed weekly.
The occasion is not merely about statistics, numerics and graphs; rather it is a reflection of how far we have traversed in our crime reduction efforts. Crime statistics always give us a sober assessment of the state of crime and how far we have come in making the country safer. We took a decision to release the crime statistics annually and that decision remains.
There are specific crimes that persist over the same period. The escalating public unrest also draws local members conducting basic policing to support public policing and strains resources.
The fact that there were 307 580 convictions in 2011/12 and 352 513 convictions for all serious crimes in 2012/13 means our strategies are beginning to yield results.
For example, murder has shown a constant reduction over the past nine years. It fell by 27.2 percent in nine years, with a further reduction of 16.6 percent in the past four years. We have now witnessed a slight increase of 0.6 percent during the past financial year (2012/13). Furthermore attempted murder rose by 6.5 percent, non-residential burglary increased by 1.7 percent and car hijacking by 5.4 percent in the past financial year.
Government initiatives and the criminal justice system to fight crime are plausible. From 2004/5 to 2012/13, crime continued to decline against the increase in population figures.
Shoplifting decreased by 12 percent in nine years; 17.8 percent in the past four years. We have now seen a 3.9 percent decrease in the past financial year; robbery at non-residential premises reduced by 0.6 percent, cash-in-transit robbery fell by 20.3 percent, bank robbery remarkably dropped by 80 percent, to mention a few.
Violence against women and children is still prevalent. This phenomenon militates against our national effort to create a caring and humane society, underpinned by values of human solidarity, justice, peace and development. We will, as we must, strengthen measures aimed at fighting the spectre of violence against women and children.
We are aware that crime is often accompanied by high levels of violence, gangsterism and stabbings. Such incidents are triggered by internal disputes and even argument. The solution is not more forces on the streets, but a concerted effort from various role-players to address issues of violence in society.
It is a fact that most of the drug victims are getting younger. The prevalent crimes include burglary (residential) and most items stolen are easily sold to sustain drug habits. When we passed the Second-Hand Goods Act 2009, which came into effect on May 1, 2012, our intervention by and large was targeting such criminal acts.
The issues of drug trafficking and gang violence require more than just policing. They require interventions in the socio-economic environment. Drugs and substance abuse have serious implications for millions of South Africans and contribute to crime, gangsterism, domestic violence, family dysfunction and other social problems.
They not only have negative impacts on the health sector, but on the family, society, economic and social development. We are faced with a multifaceted challenge which includes unemployment, poverty, social ills.
As raised earlier, one of the major challenges facing us is that the policing of public protests draws the police away from their normal policing activities and forces the police to redirect resources. This can lead to gaps in normal policing which are sharpened when the personnel deployed to the policing of such events are drawn from local police stations.
Over the past four years, 46 180 incidents were attended to and all were successfully stabilised, with 14 843 arrests effected. These include 41 104 peaceful and 5 076 unrests.
Our goal is to ensure that we not only arrest the perpetrators of violence during protests, but ensure that they are convicted. Police secured a combined 118 years’ imprisonment on convictions from the beginning of 2013 till July.
There has been a misconception that those who are arrested during illegal gatherings and violent protests are never convicted. We challenge law-abiding citizens, including the business community, to come forward with information in helping to trace some of these provocative elements.
Global influences affect economies. We have seen this by the impact the financial crisis has had on the trade between our countries and regions. With the economic downturn, South Africa and, in fact, SAPS were not spared. Over a 10-year period, we recruited mass volumes of police officers (about 10 000 a year), but due to the economic downturn, in the past three or four years have had to reduce our recruitment approach and are now employing about 3 000 a year.
This has culminated in a total personnel strength of 197 946 with a comparative police versus population ratio of 1:336.
In the past we have emphasised our recognition of the importance of maintaining close ties with business in effectively dealing with crime. The government moves from a premise that it is only through strong partnerships that we can create safer environments which enable economic development and growth and attract investments.
In dealing with issues of crime, the government proceeds from a premise that a rising quality of life also means improvement in the safety and security of citizens; in their homes and environments where they live, work and engage in extramural activities. We have in the past emphasised the point that the battle against crime cannot be separated from the war on want.
In the main, incidents of contact crime such as murder, grievous bodily harm and rape occur among acquaintances in poor communities where living and entertainment environments do not allow for decent family and social life.
This speaks to the challenge of addressing the three resilient fault lines: unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Some of these are not primarily security matters and that is why the government has adopted a multidisciplinary approach to matters of crime that includes co-operation with health, sport, social development, the economic cluster and obviously within the justice, crime prevention and security cluster.
If society expects police alone to deal with this scourge, it would be a wrong expectation. We all have a role in our different spheres and expertise.
Crime affects all the people of our country across class and colour. It is our common enemy. For this reason, we remain firmly committed to strengthening partnerships with the people, to ensure the attainment of the goal of peace, security, and comfort for all.
* Nathi Mthethwa is minister of police.
The crime statistics are old, and don’t tell us about current trends and threats in society, says Gareth Newham.
When Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa and National Commissioner of the SAPS Riah Phiyega released the official crime statistics this week, the attention of most people was on the question: “Has crime gone up or down?” Of course this question won’t easily be answered as statistics for about 30 crime categories were released, some of which show an increase and others a decrease.
What the statistics certainly don’t tell us is whether we are facing any emerging threats on the streets or in our homes and businesses. This is because the crime statistics were already out of date and are not relevant to the current situation. The crime statistics released by the police were only relevant for the 2012/13 financial year which ended six months ago (ie, the period April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013).
The absence of regularly available crime statistics severely undermines the ability of communities, business, NGOs and government departments to identify and appropriately respond to emerging crime threats. Moreover, the lack of data means that where crime prevention initiatives are developed and implemented, their impact cannot be regularly assessed so that they can be amended if necessary.
The Colombian city of Bogota provides a good example of how the regular monthly release of crime statistics could become a fundamental building block for the reduction of serious violent crime.
Between 1994 and 2004 Bogota managed to reduce its murder rate by 71 percent without hiring additional police officials.
Its murder rate in 1994 was 13 percent higher than South Africa’s. By 2010, its murder rate was almost 32 percent lower than ours at 23 murders per 100 000 people compared to 34 per 100 000 in South Africa.
At the start of his campaign to reduce violent crime in Bogota, the mayor, Antanas Mockus, established a task team consisting of police, prosecutors, various government departments and civil society organisations, including universities.
The purpose of the task team was to analyse and track the crime statistics and other relevant data on deaths and injuries.
This data was released monthly on a public website so that local communities could have access to updated information on the crime challenges they were facing.
This allowed local communities to tailor-make crime prevention initiatives to their specific crime challenges and then to regularly assess the extent to which they were successful or not.
The availability of this data allowed for different localities to experiment with different interventions, many of which did not require police involvement.
One example that proved to have a significantly positive impact on violent crime was aimed at promoting responsible alcohol consumption among young people. The success of these community-based crime-prevention initiatives reduced the burden on the police, who were left to focus on repeat violent offenders.
As a result the arrest and incarceration rates of serious criminals and repeat violent offenders increased dramatically.
This approach also improved the partnerships between the police, other government agencies, civil society organisations and communities. Not only did this approach work to reduce violent crime, it also worked to improve other social challenges. For example, traffic fatalities also dropped by 50 percent.
In South Africa, the crime statistics are seen as information that belongs to the police which they reluctantly share with the public and other government departments from time to time. The reality, however, is that these statistics are an indication of a public safety challenge that affects all of us and as such should be publicly available as required.
The unwillingness of the police to work more openly and closely with different stakeholders is reflected in the way that its senior managers undertake their planning. Year after year, the SAPS develops its own annual performance plans to tackle crime with no meaningful input from the vast wealth of experience available from other government departments, civil society organisations, the private sector or community-based structures.
This reflects the long-held and prevailing belief that the SAPS is the sole organisation responsible for tackling crime.
However, the SAPS highlights that it cannot address the factors that contribute to crime such as childhood neglect, alcohol abuse, poor urban planning and high levels of inequality. The police therefore regularly call for everybody to play a role in reducing crime.
However, because of a political decision by the national cabinet, they are not allowed to release the very information that would highlight the current and emerging crime threats that would galvanise people into the action required.
To be clear, the SAPS can easily provide up-to-date crime statistics and information to the public. In fact, South Africa is fortunate that the SAPS has a well-developed system for gathering and collating statistics on crime across the country. Many tens of millions of rand have been spent over the years developing the Crime Administration System (CAS) used by the SAPS to provide reports on the crime statistics. This system is linked into nearly all the 1 130 police stations across the country.
Each time a person goes to a police station and reports an incident of crime, a docket is opened and the information about the crime is uploaded onto this electronic system. Every 24 hours, all the criminal cases opened across the 1 130 police stations are updated on the CAS.
This means that the police always have access to detailed and updated information on reported crime.
The information is also geographically tagged so it is possible for the police to track exactly where crimes are taking place and how this pattern changes over time. For example, they also know which different types of crime are most likely to take place, and at what times of the day.
They also know a fair amount about the modus operandi of different crime types and the profiles of the likely perpetrators and victims. It is for this reason that they are able to identify crime “hot-spots” which they use to plan their policing operations and direct their targeted patrols.
This system was developed as a result of decisions taken early on in our democracy under the government of Nelson Mandela. In 1997, then minister of safety and security Sydney Mufamadi appointed a committee of inquiry to investigate the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of crime statistics.
The committee consisted of local and international experts including police and civilians and was headed by Dr Mark Orkin, who was the head of the then Central Statistical Services. Their recommendations, which were released to Mufamadi on March 31, 1998, resulted in the sophisticated crime administration system that is in use today.
The approach of the government to releasing crime information, however, then changed in 1999 with the appointment of a new minister of safety and security, Steve Tshwete,who was part of president Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet. Looking back, it becomes clear that the decision that was taken had nothing to do with the public interest. Rather it appears to have everything to do with political convenience.
Mbeki was unwilling to accept that crime was a growing problem in South Africa and was hostile to anybody who suggested otherwise.
* Gareth Newham is the Head of the Governance Crime and Justice Division at the Institute for Security Studies.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.