SA lacks clear strategies to reduce serious violent crime

2015-09-29

Pretoria, South Africa – The increase in serious violent crime shows a failure of police strategy, but the South African Police Service (SAPS) can’t shoulder the burden alone, says the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Responding to the SAPS release of 2014/15 annual crime statistics on Tuesday 29 September, the ISS made the following comments, which can be attributed to Gareth Newham, head of the ISS Governance, Crime and Justice division:

South Africa has seen a third successive year of increases in the most serious categories of violent and organised crime, yet South Africa lacks clear strategies to reverse this dangerous trend.

Armed robberies are a key indicator of police effectiveness because they are typically committed by a relatively small number of repeat offenders who are usually organised. This means that a clear robbery reduction strategy that is intelligence led and backed up by specialised teams of detectives will lead to the identification, arrest and successful prosecutions of increasing numbers of armed robbers and the buyers of stolen goods. That robberies have increased raises questions about the extent to which police resources are being effectively used.

South Africans should not have to suffer yet another year in which violent robberies are increasing on their streets and in their homes and places of work. It simply isn’t necessary as this is a crime that the police have the personnel, expertise and resources to reduce. With a budget of around R80bn, some of the best technology in the world, and more than 194 000 personnel, the SAPS should be better able to reduce crimes such as robbery.

Police should share information and collaborate more

Many police men and women are doing their best in the fight against crime, and they are to be congratulated.

But the police alone can’t reduce all forms of crime and violence, particularly many murders, assaults and rape. We therefore welcome the call by the Minister of Police to develop partnerships as recommended by the National Development Plan to reduce violence. This will require that the SAPS to work more strategically and transparently with other government departments, business and civil society.

Until today, the most recent figures on crime were one and a half years out of date. The figures released today are already six months out of date so do not give an accurate picture of current crime and violence levels facing people in their communities.

Without detailed and updated crime information being shared regularly, crime fighting efforts will not benefit from the wealth of expertise available in government, the private sector and civil society. We need to know what is going on at the current time if we are able to properly plan and implement crime reduction strategies, and assess their effectiveness.

The annual crime statistics are necessary but not adequate for an accurate understanding of crime. This is because there has been a decrease in the number of victims who are willing to report crimes to the police.

Fewer than half of victims report their experiences to the police for most categories of crime. Lower assault numbers in the statistics don’t necessarily indicate fewer assaults. The most recent National Victims of Crime Survey (NCVS) showed a 7% drop in assault victims reporting to the police, from 52,6% in 2011 to 45,6% in 2013.

When it comes to rape, research has found that as few as one in 13 rapes are reported to police. This means police rape figures are not at all accurate.

A reported decrease in sexual assault is not good news for women, because rather than showing there are fewer rapes, it indicates growing distrust in the police. The NVCS shows that the proportion of sexual assault victims who report to the police decreased by a notable 21% between 2011 and 2014.

The police cannot be held responsible for dealing with all crime, especially not most murders, rape, child abuse and assault. These crimes often start intergenerational cycles of violence and addressing them requires a different approach. Better data and stronger partnerships are also needed between government, civil society institutions that do research and analysis, and those that implement social programmes, so that data can be used effectively to identify areas of need.

Implement the National Development Plan recommendations

The National Planning Commission has highlighted the ‘serial crises of top management’ as a fundamental challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure improvements in policing.

This has to be a priority if the SAPS is to be transformed into a highly professional organisation that can build trust amongst all people in South Africa. This requires that only the most skilled, experienced and honest men and women are appointed to senior leadership positions.

We therefore look forward to the full implementation of the National Development Plan’s recommendations that the SAPS National and Deputy Commissioners are appointed on the advice of an independent selection panel following a transparent and competitive recruitment process. Moreover, all senior police managers need to be assessed for their skills, experience and integrity to ensure that only the best possible people lead the SAPS.

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