Police should prioritise victims’ needs – Mthethwa

2012-09-22 16:24

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa wants police to be more sympathetic to victims of crime and prioritise the victims’ needs when reporting crime at police stations.

He acknowledged that the under-reporting of crime, which he viewed as an obstacle in the fight against crime, was largely due to police officers who did not care enough about victims of crime when they go to police stations to report incidents.

Mthethwa said that during his visits to police stations around the country he was confronted by frustrated and desperate victims who felt police were not treating their plight with the urgency it deserved.

“We go to the communities but people tell us ‘don’t tell us about the police’.

It is important for us that all crimes are reported for us to know exactly where to focus our resources.

But if people don’t report an act of crime because they have not had a good experience at a police station that is going to become a problem because we will one day sit with glowing crime statistics which do not reflect the situation on the ground.

“That is why it is vital that when police are confronted by victims of crime they must treat them with dignity and respect at all times. Police must put communities and people first; make them feel welcome,” said Mthethwa.

In the past few months Mthethwa has forced cluster commanders, management and station commanders to publicise their cellphone numbers for the public to report bad behaviour of police at the stations.

His comments could be seen as an attempt to rally the public behind the police force and increase confidence in policing after recent studies by the Human Sciences Research Council found that the public viewed the manner in which police act with ambivalence.

The 2010 study found that 42% of South Africans supported the way the police usually act, while 33% disagreed. The other 25% were neutral.

Mthethwa rejected comments from experts on crime that the crime statistics released this week were not reliable.

He also rebuffed calls for the crime statistics to be released on a six-month basis rather than once a year.

“There is no need to revisit releasing crime statistics regularly because the role of crime statistics is to use them for operational purposes. The people who also benefit the most from regular statistics are the community policing forums, which have regular meetings with local police to identify problem areas.

“I want to make it a point that our audit of crime statistics is the most reliable reporting we have. We also share these statistics with all stakeholders and they do say it correlates with the situation on the ground. So far our research on crime is going very well,” said Mthethwa.

He slammed various minority groups, including the Freedom Front Plus, for demanding that police keep separate statistics of farm murders.

Mthethwa told City Press this would not happen because the issue was being “politicised” and it would polarise the fight against crime.

While various groups have likened farm murders to genocide, Mthethwa disagrees, and said everyone was equal before the law.

He also believed that most farm murders were the result of labour disputes.

“Everyone is important in crime fighting and they are equally important whether they live in a dwelling, informal settlement, township or a village. The problem is that there’s this gap that is being used in killings that take place on farms when people politicise such criminal matters.

“When they talk about farm murders they are not talking about the killing of farm labourers. They are not talking about child labour.

"The question then is why do you just want to prioritise one portion of murders in an area – but these people could be a drop in the ocean in terms of murders that happen in that area? It will polarise the fight against crime,” said Mthethwa.

He also believes that the spate of service delivery protests were diverting much-needed police resources to community protests instead of executing “core” police functions.

Mthethwa expressed concern that there was also an increase in vigilante attacks which he said were driven by a “mob mentality”.

“We’ve always discouraged communities from taking the law into their own hands because they are being used by other people who whip up their emotions and when they’ve killed a suspected thief they can’t reverse that when they find out this was the wrong person.

"No matter how frustrated people are about crime they must not take the law into their own hands,” said Mthethwa.

» Read City Press on Sunday for coverage of the crime statistics from Sandton to Nyanga

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