- Finding the answers and looking at the consequences
By Annalise Kempen
If you have been the victim of a property-related crime such as a housebreaking, stay in an urban area or have relatively easy access to a police station, chances are very good that you will report it to the police. For many victims the main reason for reporting such crimes is nothing more than the requirement of their short-term insurance cover to obtain a police case number in order to submit a claim. But what if you don't have insurance or easy access to a police station? Would you still take the trouble to report the crime to the police?
Each year, with the release of the SAPS's annual crime statistics, as well as Statistics SA's Victims of Crime Survey (VoCS), South Africans are reminded by numerous organisations and commentators that the crime pictures that are painted are not (necessarily) a true reflection of what is happening in our country. Lizette Lancaster from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) notes that, following a report by the Minister of Police to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police on 3 March 2017, "these decreases may be the result of growing levels of under-reporting and under-recording of crime - rather than a real decrease". Using the VoCS of 2015/2016 as an example, Lancaster (2017) cites examples of how the SAPS's annual statistics differ from the inferences made in the VoCS. "In 2016, the SAPS recorded 253 716 home burglaries - representing a 2% increase over the past five years. According to the VoCS, the police statistics represent only about half of all break-ins taking place nationally, because only 47% of cases were reported to the police. In addition to burglaries, the police recorded 20 820 armed invasions of homes while the victims were present. This extremely traumatic crime is categorised as residential robbery, and increased by 24% since 2011/2012. The actual number of these crimes is estimated to be a third higher than the police statistics - due to under-reporting." Lancaster (2017) continues along the same lines with other crime categories that show under-reporting when the SAPS's annual statistics are compared to the findings of the VoCS.
The SAPS's annual statistics reflect the crimes reported to the police as well as those crimes that were detected as a result of police action such as the illegal possession of firearms of drugs. But there is clear evidence that not all crimes, either serious or petty in nature, are reported to the police and it is important to find some answers as to why victims make the decision not to report and what the ultimate consequences of such non-reporting or under-reporting are.
Victims of Crime Survey: perceptions of crime in South Africa
One of the sources consulted to find answers regarding factors that contribute to why people don't report crime is the Victims of Crime Survey (VoCS). Of the respondents, 51% of victims of housebreaking reported the crime to the police. Of these, 38% of households were satisfied with the police's response - which mostly included Indian/Asian and White respondents. Those who didn't report their housebreakings gave two main reasons, namely: 31.9% claimed that the "police could do nothing" while 28.3% claimed that "the police would do nothing". Given that this amounts to 60% of respondents, it speaks clearly to a lack of confidence in the police by a large part of the community. Apart from these two reasons, the respondents in the VoCS noted other reasons why they did not report housebreaking to the police:
- 7.5% noted that they solved the case themselves or that the perpetrator was known to them;
- 7% believed that the case was inappropriate for the police or that it was not necessary for the police to deal with the matter;
- 3.5% reported the housebreaking to other authorities instead (which were not specified);
- 4.3% noted that their families resolved the matter;
- 1.3% claimed that they did not report the matter due to a fear or dislike of the police or that they did not want the police to be involved; and
- 0.6% said that they did not dare to report the housebreaking to the police out of fear of reprisal.