#CrimeStats | Police must ‘follow data and focus on hotspots’: ISS

In order to curb violent crime in SA, the police need to follow their own data, and focus on areas which have a legacy of violence.
In order to curb violent crime in SA, the police need to follow their own data, and focus on areas which have a legacy of violence.
Image: Elvis Ntombela

To curb violent crime in SA, the police need to follow their own data and focus on areas which have a legacy of violence.

This according to Andrew Faull, senior researcher in the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, who was commenting on the police’s annual crime statistics which were released on Friday.

“Our acceptance and use of violence is entrenched and it is part of our society and police alone cannot change that. But they are a crucial actor in bringing down violence where it is most common and acute,” he said.

There are easy ways to follow the data, he said, and intervene in the places were the violence is at its worst, but also most predictable.

“That is what the police should be doing. They need to identify these areas and act without being distracted by less serious crimes. Of course, we all want every crime to be attended to but if we want the police to succeed, they need their resources to be deployed where it matters most,” Faull added.

He said that while an increase in the number of murders recorded was concerning, the murder rate had stayed stable.

“It is not a decline, but it is not an increase either. This is promising because murder being our most reliable indicator of general violence in communities.”

Across the country, the number of murders rose to 21,325 during the period under review.  

During the press briefing to release the statistics, police minister Bheki Cele hailed the 36% drop in murders reported at the Nyanga police station in Cape Town.

But Faull said that it was not a representative decline.

“The 36% decline in Nyanga is not a real decline. This is a result of the opening of the Samora Machel police station and, if you add their numbers together, the two combined still come out at the top,” he said.

Gareth Newham, head of the ISS's justice and violence prevention programme, said he mostly paid attention to the murder and robberies categories.

“We look at that very closely because that gives us a sense of levels of violence in our society and the nature of violence.

“The bad news is that it went up slightly, but when it comes to the rate — the risk of being murdered has stayed the same for the past two years and that is significant,” Newham said.

He said since 2012 the murder rate has increased by 35%, adding that this was the first year in eight years that the rate of murders had flattened and that gives us “some kind of optimism that we have turned the corner on this longer increase”.

Regarding aggravated robberies, Newham said law enforcement was not giving enough attention to street robberies.

“The career of a robber starts off when a youngster starts committing street robberies. The more they do it, the more they get comfortable with firearms and start doing more serious crimes.

“If police are not addressing street robberies, we will see an increase in high-level crimes,” Newham said.

He said police should effectively use their crime intelligence services and investigating services, they should be able to crack down on robbery networks and reduce the numbers.

“A lot more is needed to be done in this regard.”

The DA’s shadow police minister, Andrew Whitefield, said that the statistics were an indictment on the police, indicating they were losing the battle against major crimes.

Underpinning this, he said, was the fact that the murder rate is the highest it has been in 10 years, and rape had also increased.

“These crime statistics are an indictment on SAPS and specifically the minister who is more worried about alcohol and cigarettes than violent criminals,” he said.

Anti-firearm lobby group Gun Free SA (GFSA) slammed the police for the “scandalously” lax controls on guns.

This as the crime statistics revealed that of the 21,325 murders recorded in the period under review, 45% were firearm-related.

GFSA’s Claire Taylor said gun crime had flourished because of soft law enforcement.

“This is scandalous. Guns, unlike knives, are controlled by laws, regulations and protocols.

“But poor implementation as a result of weak enforcement and lack of compliance has facilitated the increasing availability of guns,” she said.

“In 2019 President Ramaphosa envisioned halving violent crime in SA in the next 10 years. If we do not act to reduce the ready availability of guns in our country, our communities, our homes, his vision will remain just that,” she added.

Taylor called for gunshot wounds to be made notifiable, as is done with Covid-19 positive patients at health-care centres.

“Mandatory reporting of gunshot injuries by heath centres would allow the authorities to track gun violence in real time, identify hotspots and take appropriate action,” she said.

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