Johannesburg - The number of bodies from violent deaths in Gauteng mortuaries is higher than the official police murder count.
Even making allowance for unintentional violent deaths and suicides in the mortuary count, the discrepancies in the two sets of statistics indicate that the police are undercounting murder.
The official murder count in the SAPS crime statistics for Gauteng for 2012/13 plus 2013/14 is 6 330.
The count by the Gauteng Forensic Pathology Services’ mortuaries of bodies due to deaths from assault, rape, shootings, stabbings and strangulation for those two years is 7 188. The mortuaries’ count of “stillbirths” for those two years is 1 200.
The mortuary statistics were submitted to the Gauteng legislature recently following a question from DA MPL Jack Bloom. The Gauteng Forensic Pathology Services’ mortuaries take only bodies from unnatural deaths.
Stillbirths in hospitals are not regarded as unnatural deaths, so they don’t go to the Forensic Pathology Services’ mortuaries and aren’t in that count.
Instead, say the Forensic Pathology Services staff, those are the abandoned babies. There are some foetuses and stillbirths among them, but those are also the babies dumped in rubbish bins and in the veld.
Police management deny any undercount. “There can’t be a miscount,” said SAPS national spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo. “For every murder case there must be a body. There can’t be a miscount on that.”
Police classify unnatural deaths in three categories: murders, culpable homicides or inquests. The murders and culpable homicide statistics are released annually, but not inquests. “We do not keep inquest stats,” said Naidoo. The Department of Justice couldn’t provide inquest case stats either.
Experts say two areas result in SAPS murder undercounts: counting the number of cases instead of bodies in multiple murders, and the wrong categorisation of crimes.
While the SAPS has always said the number of murders is counted, not the cases, it’s likely that some police stations make mistakes.
The biggest undercount is likely to be in the wrong categorisation of the case on the police database. This includes attack victims dying from their injuries after their cases are logged as attempted murder or assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, if the police fail to update the case classification. It also includes the dead babies logged as inquests instead of murders, which police routinely do.
“We don’t register them as abandoned, we just register them as an inquest,” Gauteng police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said.
“If someone dies naturally, it’s just registered as an inquest on our system, not as abandoned babies.”
Naidoo said abandoned-baby deaths should be logged as murder or culpable homicide, not inquests, as babies found dead in the veld couldn’t have got there by themselves.
Some of those extra bodies in the mortuaries’ violent-deaths count could be culpable homicides rather than murders, but the SAPS’s count for culpable homicides is overflowing with road accident deaths, with both the traffic authorities and the Gauteng mortuaries counting more traffic deaths than the SAPS.
Not all the mortuaries’ bodies are murders – there are suicides, accidental deaths and unintentionally caused deaths there too – and there are plenty of possible murders in other categories of deaths there, such as hangings and poisonings.
The SAPS crime stats record three categories of unnatural deaths for investigation: murder (intentional killing), culpable homicide (negligent or unintentional but unlawful killing) and inquests (deaths believed not to be due to another person, but to be investigated).
The SAPS culpable homicide stats include all the road traffic deaths, including single-vehicle accident deaths, and these SAPS cases form the basis of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) counts.
These are the problems:
* The national road death tolls are consistently higher every year than the SAPS culpable homicide body count. In the 10 years from 2004 to 2013, the RTMC counted 138 075 road deaths, while the SAPS count of culpable homicide deaths from 2004-5 to 2013-14 was 121 736. That’s a difference of 16 339 bodies or 13 percent. The RTMC counts in calendar years and the SAPS in financial years, but every year’s count in the past decade shows more road deaths than culpable homicide cases.
* The Gauteng Department of Health’s forensic pathology service mortuaries counted 3 241 deaths from road accidents in 2012-13 and 3 380 in 2013-14. The RTMC wasn’t able to provide a Gauteng count but the mortuaries’ body count is 35 percent higher for each year than the SAPS’s culpable homicide count for Gauteng.
* The SAPS culpable homicide count should include other deaths too, such as accidental shootings that weren’t murders.
* The SAPS counted 2 997 murders in Gauteng in 2012-13 and 3 333 murders in 2013-14. But the Gauteng forensic pathology service mortuaries counted 3 452 deaths in 2012-13 and 3 736 deaths in 2013-14 from just the categories of assault, rape, shooting, stabbing or strangulation. That’s 15 percent more than the police counted the first year and 12 percent more than the second year.
While some of those violent deaths counted by the mortuaries may have been culpable homicides (although the SAPS’s culpable homicide count can’t really accommodate any more bodies), those deaths are only some of the unnatural deaths logged by those mortuaries. There were also deaths from other causes which could have included murders or, at least, culpable homicide cases: for example, burns (665 in 2012-13 and 710 in 2013-14); poisoning (362 and 586); and falls (322 and 284).
* Many of the violent deaths recorded by the mortuaries are likely to be suicides, with many of the poisonings expected to fall into that category, which would be inquests.
Dr Richard Lebethe, chief director of forensic pathology in the Gauteng Department of Health, said the forensic mortuaries were highly regulated because all the cases were unnatural deaths with legal implications, so there was no inclusion of bodies from incidents in other provinces.
Crime analyst and retired policeman Chris de Kock raised concern about the discrepancies in the numbers. “Murder is internationally seen as the most reliable and valid crime indicator or trend,” he said.
“There’s always a body.”
Dropping the abandoned babies from serious violent crime categories meant that some people were likely to get away with murder.
“You must know if you put that baby in a plastic bag and leave it that (that) baby is going to die,” said De Kock. “There should still be prosecution, at least to send out a signal that this is not a good thing. Otherwise it becomes an easy option.”
The SAPS has yet to release the crime stats for the 2014/15 period.
But when it does, look for the Gauteng murder count and compare it to the Gauteng mortuaries’ count of victims of assault, rape, shooting, stabbing and strangulation received during from April 2014 to March: 3 927.
And add at least some of these from the mortuaries’ 2014/15 count of abandoned babies: 607.