Are the SAPS crime statistics all that accurate?

Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula today presented the annual South African Police Service (SAPS) crime statistics to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Police. 

The SAPS statistics cover 21 crime categories, 17 of which are reported by the public while 4 are a result of police activity. 

In a puzzling announcement Minister Mbalula said sexual offence crimes decreased by 4.3% compared with last year’s statistics. However, the recent StatsSA Victims of Crime Survey (VoCS)released in September this year found that sexual offences increased by a staggering 110%. 
Research from other organisations also warns not to take SAPS’s statistics at face value. 

The difference in findings could be because of the difference in how SAPS and the VoCS obtain their statistics. “Police-reported statistics obtain data from police administrative records” the survey states, including actual reports of crime by victims.

“In contrast, victim surveys collect both household and personal information about their victimisation experiences, through face-to-face interviews. The survey covers victims’ experiences of crime at microdata level, including the impact of crime on victims.”

SAPS’s statistics are therefore dependent on the number of people who reported offences to the police; however, the VoCS notes that many crimes go unreported because of dissatisfaction with police services and the justice system. This is more so for sexual offence crimes as stigmas and fear of reporting prohibit victims from going to the police. 

Mbalula admitted that when reporting a crime “police treat our people as a nuisance” and police services need to be improved in this way.
In other crime categories, Minister Mbalula noted that contact crimes – crimes that involve direct contact with victims, such as murder, assault or hijacking - decreased by 2.4%. Specifically, murder rates increased by 1.8%, while armed robbery increased 6.4% from last year. 

In a press release, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) blamed the increase in murder and armed robbery on SAPS’s inability to cope with violent crime in South Africa “despite a budget increase by almost 50% since 2011/12 to R87 billion”. This, the ISS said, was in turn due to “inappropriate political interference in the police” and the continuous shuffling of leadership within SAPS.

“The root of the crime and policing crises in South Africa was the failure of the president to appoint a highly experienced woman or man of integrity as SAPS National Commissioner. Ongoing political interference at all levels of the SAPS has severely weakened the organization” ISS said.
The VoCS also noted more house burglaries than that recorded by SAPS who recorded 246 654 burglaries compared to VoCS’s 776 933. 

In the press release, Head of the ISS Justice and Violence Prevention Programme, Gareth Newham, said that the reason, again, for this difference in reporting, ‘may be that the police are under-recording such incidents or that there are other reasons for difference in numbers. But we need to get to the bottom of this as accurate information is critical if we are to develop effective strategies for reducing crime.’
While Mbalula criticised the “lazy efforts of police” in detecting crime and adding that “police are letting our people down”, he had previously adopted a more aggressive tone towards criminals. 

In an article by the Wits Justice Project,  Mbalula called on police to be harsher on suspects, “Even if you do not have a warrant of arrest‚ slap them. Break the law progressively and let me worry about court cases” he said during the redeployment of the TRT, also known as “AmaBerete” in Gauteng earlier this month. 

At the parliamentary presentation of the SAPS statistics he reiterated this view. “Violent criminals will receive a proportional response to what they dish out” he said, adding, “We are coming for you. Enough is enough.”

The ISS, however, said overall “police urgently need to improve their capability to investigate crime, gather evidence and arrest the perpetrators. This requires police to earn the trust of communities and reverse a decline in trust levels”.

-Azarrah Karrim

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