Johannesburg - Police should sort out their leadership problems and get to grips with the upsurge of violent crime, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) believes.
The failure of leadership is expected to be underlined in the annual crime statistics, usually released in September.
“What we expect the crime statistics to say now is to show that we are three years into a serious upsurge of violent, organised crime in South Africa. This is largely measured by the categories of aggravated robbery,” Gareth Newham, head of the ISS’s governance, crime and justice division, said.
“Robbery is a violent contact crime where perpetrators are armed or use violence or the threat of violence to steal from somebody.”
Aggravated robberies are usually armed robberies.
For April 2013 to March 2014 - the last period for which police reported crime statistics - there were 119 351 aggravated robberies. More than half were public or street robberies, about 16 percent were house robberies (home invasions), about 13 percent were business robberies and about 9 percent car hijackings.
The numbers have been increasing in the past two years. These are the most feared crimes, are often violent and could lead to murder.
“This is not a spike. We are three years into a fundamental surge in crime. It’s fundamentally changing the nature of crime in South Africa and driving up the murder rate. This is not a spike. This is something that is deathly serious,” Newham said.
He blamed this on a failure of leadership at the top of the SAPS, starting with disgraced national commissioner General Riah Phiyega, who is currently fighting to keep her job.
He said crime intelligence had collapsed, with suspended head Richard Mdluli still technically in the job, and these problems made it difficult for the police to work effectively and build credibility.
The failure of crime intelligence meant serious violent crime - which was primarily perpetrated by organised crime - wasn’t being addressed strategically.
“The consequence is that these robberies are now - for the second year and possibly a third year, if the current trend continues - causing an increase in murders,” Newham added.
Dealing with violent organised crime required crime intelligence, a clear strategy and a national approach.
Newham said the police performance plan for this year didn’t mention the aggravated robbery problem, and there was no other indication that the police were addressing it.
“So there’s no strategy. We’ve not seen any strategy document from any police, nationally or provincially, saying this is how we are going to bring down robberies,” he noted.
Police have focused on running big anti-crime operations like the ongoing Operation Fiela, sometimes backed by the SANDF, but Newham dismissed these as militarised policing which targeted the poor and didn’t deal with the organised gangs which are behind most robberies.
“They’re organised. They watch what the cops do and move out of the areas where the cops operate,” he said.
Police arrest hundreds in Operation Fiela and similar actions, but Newham said few convictions resulted from these such actions.
“Basically, they’ll go into a room and find a bag of marijuana or a weapon, arrest everybody in the room, and no one gets convicted (because) they can’t prove it belongs to them. That’s what usually happens. But it looks good,” he added.
“It has absolutely no impact,on most violent organised crime.
“When the gangs continue to avoid arrest, they work a few days a month and have a lot of cash to flash around, providing all the wrong sort of role models for other youngsters, who become envious and move into crime themselves.
“They’re inexperienced, sometimes take drugs or alcohol to cope with carrying out attacks, get guns and suddenly more people are being killed.
“It’s not the experienced guys who are killing people. Guys who are doing this over and over know that the worst thing they can do is kill someone or rape them, because that’s when police send in their best detectives and get in forensics,” Newham said.
Crime statistics should be released frequently and fast.
The Institute for Security Studies has repeated the call for timely crime stats.
“I’d like to see the minister and the police commissioner telling us exactly what’s going on with the crime situation. And the best way they can do that is by releasing the crime stats immediately and monthly,” said Newham.
“So every month, every community across the country can look at these statisticsand see whether they have a robbery problem or not.”
If that information were available to local communities, they could work together to look for immediate solutions.
“If those initiatives that they take are working, they’ll very quickly know they’re working. If they’re not working they can try to change the strategy, because every month they get an update on statistics. If they don’t have that detail, they can’t get on top of the problem.”
Effective crime reduction was based on hard data, he added. “That’s what effective crime prevention is: it’s local information that is proven and objective.