The Crime Stats are divided into two groups. The first is Community Reported Serious Crimes (CRSCs), which consist of 17 crime categories reported by members of the public. These include offences such as murder, aggravated robbery and arson. According to the Crime Stats, CRSCs made up 83.1% of the 21 serious crime categories and went up by 0.7% compared to the previous period. The second group is Crimes Dependent on Police Action (CPDA) for detection, such as drug-related offences and sexual offences detected as a result of police action. The Crime Stats indicate that these made up 16.0% of the serious crimes. From this, it is apparent that the SAPS relies heavily on the public to report criminal activity in order to act. 

According to the Crime Stats, in the reporting period, 2.01 million crimes were recorded, which is a decrease from the previous reporting period. Despite this development, over 21 000 people were murdered, marking a 3.4% increase from the previous period, with gun violence being one of the primary contributors. Over 52 000 people were reported as victims of sexual offences, of which 46.5% were children who were victims of sexual assault. There was a drastic increase in the recorded figures for sexual offences, recording a 19% jump as a result of CPDA offences and an overall 4.6% increase in all sexual offences recorded. There was a drop in the theft of motor vehicles and motorcycles. 

What does this mean? 

In order to answer this question, the argument that the above statistics are given to the public in what can be considered a vacuum, must be considered. Except in the case of murder, the causative factors of crimes are not proffered. Even in the case of murder, where domestic violence, armed robbery and gang-related incidents are identified as causative factors, the question that remains is whether the available information is useful to the police, the public or to policy-makers. In addition to being informative in terms of figures, when the Crime Stats are presented, the public should be told about the steps being taken to address crime in the country. It seems to serve very little purpose to alarm the public without offering solutions. 

The Crime Stats are distilled into provincial figures and charts, highlighting trends. If we take murder as an example, there is a worrying upward pattern. However, nobody seems to be asking what the reasons for this are – particularly when the police publish the statistics annually and are aware of where and why the murders take place in the areas they do. The availability of this data should translate to responsive and effective policing that works to address worrying patterns. This is not the case. 

Another point of concern is the timing of the release of the Crime Stats. Annually, the statistics are released at least six months after the final recorded reporting date. This renders the data outdated by the time it is published and thus, unreliable for use when it comes to the development of strategy and mechanisms to address key issues. Outdated data does not reflect current events or patterns, and this means policing is taking place with inaccurate information, and that does not serve a purpose.  

It is imperative that the Crime Stats should be understood and read and analysed, taking into account the variety of contributors to the changes between periods and environments. There have been numerous responses to the way the data is gathered, analysed and used after it is made available. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS), for example, has suggested more frequent publishing of the Crime Stats, to allow for more a more effective and accurate response to the patterns that we see in the data. This would also allow those institutions responsible for policy-making – both from a civil society perspective and government – to create sustainable, impactful solutions. 

Another suggestion is that the most accurate names be given to the identified crimes, to allow for effective, nuanced responses. Again, if we use murder as an example, these deaths can be categorised into femicide, hate crimes, xenophobia, etc. This identification allows for the acceptance that each of these instances requires different methods and institutions to investigate and establish solutions. Another example would be understanding why crimes such as farm murders take place, in order to create specific solutions. 

The danger of using the same mechanisms to address all ailments cannot be overstated. Once the offences have been identified, clear plans can be developed for implementation by the SAPS.

We have seen what the absence of a clear plan when addressing criminal behaviour results in. 

A blatant example of this is the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) into the gang-ridden Cape Flats. A deployment that was intended to last just under three months has been extended into next year. Why?  Because so far, there has been no information as to what the SAPS intends to do to effectively address the violence, and the present stats do not tell us if the SANDF had been successful in bringing the violence and crime under control. 

The Crime Stats should be utilised to create policies that change outcomes for victims of crime. The SAPS and policy-makers are responsible for ensuring that the constitutionally-protected rights to life, freedom and security of the person and human dignity, to name a few, are protected. Policies should be responsive to the data presented, forward-thinking and adaptable to changes in criminal behaviour and patterns. 

As it stands, the SAPS’ attitudes towards the crime stats are not reflective of a State concerned with changing the status quo.

By Ms Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Officer, Centre for Constitutional Rights
15 October 2019