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Concerns over reliability, relevance of crime stats

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The pending announcement of the annual crime statistics on Tuesday has sparked everything from doubt around their validity to questions over their relevance.

The DA said that the 2014/2015 crime statistics could be manipulated if they were not independently audited, while the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said the flaw in the statistics was that they did not reveal the factors behind the figures.

In a break with the trend of briefing the media first on the statistics, the figures will be released on Tuesday to Parliament’s portfolio committee on police.

Independent audit

DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said the problem with not having independent auditors was highlighted two years ago when the SA Police Service used incorrect population figures to calculate various crime ratios.

“In order to ensure the citizenry of South Africa accept their validity, the crime statistics must be independently audited,” she said.

“The DA again urges the minister of police and the national police commissioner to commission such an audit, using an independent auditing firm, lest they release inaccurate statistics.”

The DA also believed that government’s decision to use the crime statistics as a measure of SAPS performance needed to be stopped.

“The system of incentivising a decrease in crime rates often serves to incentivise under-reporting by the police. This is counter-intuitive,” Kohler Barnard said.

“The focus on statistics as a measure of performance means that solutions are sought in the wrong places.

“For instance, instead of simply saying murder has increased, we need to look at the reasons for this and then target interventions such as specialised crime units to address the issue.”

‘We do not expect good news’

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) told News24 on Monday that the new statistics could show an increase in murders and robberies.

“We do not expect good news,” the ISS’s Gareth Newham said.

He added that if there was a rise, it would show that recent increases were not just a “spike”, but rather a trend.

“It will be a fundamental shift over the big gains we made over the last 10 years.”

The murder figures stood at 17 068 in 2013/14, up from 16 259 in 2012/13.

Robbery with aggravating circumstances had also increased from 105 888 in 2012/13 to 119 351 to 2013/14.

Newham said the biggest flaw in the statistics, particularly for violent crimes like assault and rape, was that they were unreliable.

“Very few people report the crimes. So when the police say the rate is going down, it means there are fewer victims reporting cases.”

Another flaw was that statistics merely say whether a category is going up or down, it does not say what the factors were behind the figures.

Is SA a safer country?

The SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Thursday that while the levels of certain crimes have dropped since 1994, increases in armed robbery, hijackings, sexual assault and drug related crimes had made it hard to determine if South Africa was a safer country.

“That is difficult to answer, because different trends run in different directions,” SAIRR CEO Frans Cronje told reporters in Johannesburg.

Cronje said it was possible that some increases were due to effective policing.

“[With the drugs figures] this also might be because of changes in drug use and behaviour… changes in living standards might also be a contributing factor.”

A decline in stock theft figures could conversely be related to less farmer confidence in the police.

Meanwhile, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s spokesperson, Musa Zondi, told News24 that briefing Parliament was the first priority.

“We report to Parliament, and any performance by the department must be reported to Parliament,” he said.

“You can’t account to the media without accounting to Parliament.”

He said the previous practice of releasing the statistics to the media was “wrong”. News24

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