The story behind the numbers needs to be taken seriously and action needs to be taken
By Annalise Kempen
Each year in September when police management releases the annual crime statistics for the previous financial year, we have come to expect more of the same bad news. One can almost compare it to ordering food at a restaurant: you know what you will be getting, but the question is whether the quality of the food will live up to your expectations. When South Africa's crime statistics are released each year, we are in a similar position since we are prepared that whatever the police will be telling us, is likely not to be good news. This is in part because we are continuously bombarded by news about crime on various platforms and also because many of us have either experienced crime first-hand as victims or as first responders to violent crime scenes.
This year, our article will not focus on the cold crime statistics that were released on 12 September 2019. Although we note that murder has increased with 3.4% to 21 022 cases and cash-in-transit (CIT) robberies have shown a drastic decrease of 23.1% for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, our focus will be on what is done with the crime reports and the data that are generated within each policing precinct.
This refocussing on the way we present crime statistics come from the fact that, if we were to analyse the so-called top 20 police stations where violent crime is committed, the storyline is similar every year (with a few new characters). Almost anyone with an interest in crime analysis will be able to highlight that the police stations where the highest murder rates are recorded are mainly located on the Cape Flats (Nyanga, Delft, Khayelitsha) and in KwaZulu-Natal (Umlazi and Inanda). The question is: if a similar pattern has been emerging for many years, why have specific interventions not been launched to identify and address the root causes of violent crime? And if such interventions have been launched, why have they not been successful? A further analysis of the 21 022 murders that have been committed during the reporting period shows that 4313 of those murders were committed in 30 policing precincts which means that 20% of the total number of murders committed in South Africa during the reporting year were committed in 3% of all of South Africa’s police station areas. Faull (2019) reminds us that during the 2016/2017 reporting year, 13% or 148 police stations recorded 50% of all murders. This informs us that if we prioritise the potential contributing factors to serious violent crime in these policing precincts, we would probably be able to make a significant impact on the high murder rate.
The issue of under-reporting
Crime statistics are mostly interpreted as a numbers game by using the number of cases reported to the SAPS and/or registered by the SAPS. For the 2018/2019 reporting year (1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019), 1 673 990 serious crime types in 17 categories were reported to the SAPS (83.1%), and an additional 339 281 crimes were detected as a result of police action (16.9%).
If these figures are compared with the information provided in the Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey (GPSJS): Victims of Crime (VoC) 2018/2019 that was released by Stats SA on 3 October 2019, it is evident that the under-reporting of crime remains a concern. Although the latest official crime statistics paint a dark picture, the VoC reminds us that if the crimes which were not reported to the SAPS had formed part of the SAPS's statistics, the picture would be worse. This is clear from a comparison between the SAPS’s statistics and the VoC survey in only a few crime categories.
According to the 2018/2019 VoC, an estimated 1 345 196 housebreaking incidents occurred, which affected 969 567 or 5.8% of households in South Africa. About 48% of households that experienced housebreaking reported it to the police. The total number of households that reported housebreaking to the police is estimated to be 467 599. However, this estimate is significantly greater than the number of burglaries at residential premises reported in the 2018/2019 SAPS crime statistics, namely 220 865.
According to the SAPS’s latest statistics, 22 431 house robberies were reported, compared to an estimated 264 054 incidents of home robberies, affecting 183 998 (1.1%) households according to the 2018/2019 VoC. The latter survey reveals that approximately 60% of households that experienced house robbery reported it to the police. The total number of households that reported house robbery to the police is estimated to be 110 203.
The theft of motor vehicles also showed significant differences to the SAPS’s official statistics where the latter statistics indicate that 48 324 cases were reported to the SAPS. The 2018/2019 VoC revealed that this crime was experienced by 68 030 (0.4%) households in 2018/2019. About 86% of households that experienced theft of motor vehicles reported the crime to the police. The higher reporting rate could be linked to the requirement to have a police case (CAS) number for short-term insurance purposes.
Much has been written about why South Africans experience so much violent crime. Reasons including socio-economic challenges, political instability, economic inequality and the violence that has been used by both the state and liberation movements during apartheid years are often being cited as key contributors to creating a culture of violence. Interestingly, few other African countries that are not in a state of war, experience as much violence as South Africa. For example, according to Kenya's Annual Crime Report for 2018, a total of 88 268 crimes were reported for the report year, versus more than 1.6 million crimes in South Africa. (Kenya has a population of 52.8 million compared to South Africa's 58.5 million (http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/).) Murder is regarded as one of the best crime categories for comparison purposes: Kenya reflected a tenth of the number of murders in 2018 namely 2015 murders, compared to what South Africa experienced, namely 21 022. It therefore does not come as a surprise that other violent crime categories in Kenya also showed significantly lower levels compared to those in South Africa. For example: 979 rape cases were recorded in Kenya compared to 42 583 rape cases in South Africa; and 2905 robbery cases (including carjacking) were recorded in Kenya, compared to a total of 59 817 robbery cases in South Africa during the same reporting period.