‘Stats can be manipulated’

2010-09-10 00:00

INDEPENDENT stakeholders have questioned the reliability of crime statistics, saying they can be manipulated to create a good image of the police.

The reaction came immediately after Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced the 2009/2010 crime statistics yesterday morning. The statistics reflected that almost all crimes, including murder and attempted murder, have decreased.

The head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, says the statistics do not give a true reflection of the level of crime in South Africa. He says the police have a history of being dishonest when it comes to statistics.

“At least the justice cluster should be the one dealing with the stats, because police are not independent in this case,” he says.

Newham is also concerned that releasing the statistics once a year does not reflect the current crime rate.

“People should not make such a big deal of these statistics unless the government stops making crime its secret. Also, the fact that not all crimes get recorded at the police stations is another worry. This is because police don’t always respond when they are called to crime scenes.”

David Bruce, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, says only murder statistics could possibly be relied on because police and forensic investigators prioritise such a crime.

“Other violent crimes such as attempted murder, assault with GBH and common assault are not always recorded on computer systems,” he says.

Bruce recommends a victimisation survey, where certain organisations go around communities asking people if they have been victims of crime. But he also warns that such a such survey is itself not always reliable enough.

“There is no way of finding the true level of crime.”

Independent crime and violence monitor Mary de Haas has also called for an independent body to collect crime statistics.

“This leaves me very sceptical as we only rely on the word of police about the level of crime. We know about the dishonesty of the police when it comes to the statistics,” De Haas says.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) provincial secretary Kwenza Nxele says the statistics can be relied on, according to the union’s assessment. But it also supports the idea of an independent body to collect statistics.

“Our assessment shows that the crime rate has dropped nationally and locally. We do collect our own statistics, which we review every time we have conferences.

“However, we cannot deny that there is corruption when it comes to collecting statistics, but we do fight against it. An independent body is ideal for the job as police cannot be player and referee at the same time,” Nxele concludes.

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