Crime stats ban lifted

2001-05-31 18:13

Cape Town - Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete on Thursday announced the immediate lifting of a moratorium on publishing crime statistics, and simultaneously released the latest police crime figures.

The figures, which compare the first quarter of this year with the same period in 2000, appear to show there has been no decrease in the high rate of serious crimes - such as murder, rape and serious assault - over this time.

They also show that robbery with aggravating circumstances, including vehicle hijackings, bank robberies and cash-in-transit heists, as well as common robberies, have increased.

Briefing the media at Parliament, Tshwete said steps taken by police over the past ten months to ensure the reliability and credibility of statistics were such that the moratorium - put in place in July last year - could now be lifted.

Top South African Police Service (SAPS) officers at the briefing said the statistics released showed encouraging signs in the fight against crime.

Tshwete said that in future crime statistics would be released on a quarterly basis - the first quarter being July-August-September this year.

This means the first crime statistics compiled in terms of SAPS's new system will be released to the public at the end of September.

Tshwete said that in spite of this, he had nevertheless decided to release the "old and unreliable" statistics on the system, Tshwete said.

Crime combating strategy having an impact

SAPS head of crime information analysis, Chris de Kock, said these showed the national crime combating strategy (NCCS) was indeed having an impact.

Even though crime figures remained fairly high, progress was being made, and most crime rates had stabilised or dropped slightly, he said.

Crimes that had stabilised - in the period January to March this year, compared to the same period last year - included murder (10.8 per 100 000 of the population), attempted murder (14.5), rape (29.5), serious assault (156.4), residential burglary (168.8), illegal possession of firearms (7.8) and drug-related crime (25.8).

Crimes that had decreased included business burglary (down to 50.6 from 53.2), and motor vehicle theft (down to 54.4 from 57).

Robbery with aggravating circumstances, including vehicle hijackings, bank robbery, and cash-in-transit heists, increased from 55.7 to 61.4, and common robbery from 45.1 to 50.7.

De Kock said the robbery trends were worrying, but were still being analysed.

The statistics to be released in future would be much more detailed and include those at station level, he said.

Tshwete said steps taken by the SAPS over the past ten months included, among other things, issuing training manuals, developing guidelines for registering cases, and clearly defining the relevant commanders' roles and responsibilities.

Definition of crime categories developed

The definition of crime categories and counting rules had also been developed, and officers retrained to ensure correct reporting and recording of crimes.

Key officials had also been trained in the computerised crime administration system (CAS).

Training would continue indefinitely, according to needs, Tshwete said.

Over 600 additional computer terminals were being installed at various police stations.

Updated area maps had been distributed to all police stations to help in mapping crime spots, and a computerised geographic information system (GIS) implemented at 340 priority stations.

The system automatically plotted crime information and would greatly enhance operational planning.

Further, SAPS was to employ 72 analysts and 600 data typists to improve the service's ability to analyse crime information.

Tshwete said many of these processes were ongoing and would be evaluated and adapted over time.

'Future stats will be more reliable'

"It is expected that future crime statistics will be more reliable and credible - in line with accepted scientific norms - as a result of the initiatives taken.

"It should be obvious that the new process will be of tremendous value to the SAPS, in that it will enhance their accurate day-to-day planning of crime prevention operations."

The lifting of the moratorium was welcomed by various political parties.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson Andre Gaum said it would prevent next week's safety and security budget vote debate in the National Assembly from being a sham, which it would have been without the availability of statistics.

"It is still difficult to understand why exactly the moratorium was ever implemented.

"The minister failed to sufficiently justify the moratorium during today's (Thursday) press conference.

"It appears that the process to improve the collection and categorising of statistics is still on-going," Gaum said.

It was therefore not clear whether or not the statistics released on Thursday were the result of an improved process, Gaum said.

Picture 'not as bad as we thought it would be'

Inkatha Freedom Party spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu said: "According to released figures, the picture is not as bad as we had thought it would be, particularly because they show a decrease in crime in certain areas.

"We note with some sense of optimism that the figures indicate a decline in serious crimes like hijacking of vehicles, robbery of cash-in-transit vehicles as well as bank robberies."

The United Democratic Movement's Annelize van Wyk said "the cloak of secrecy" that had surrounded the crime figures had at last been lifted.

Withholding the figures had unnecessarily endangered the lives of innocent South Africans.

The moratorium had ensured the new statistics would be looked at with a magnifying glass to ensure that no "tampering" occurred, Van Wyk said.

Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front said lifting the moratorium, as well as the release of the statistics, created the impression that crime had in general declined and stabilised.

Because of the change in definitions "apples are unfortunately not compared with apples".

A meaningful comparison between "old" and "new" crime statistics was not possible, as some of the "new" statistics were compiled according to new definitions.

"The new definitions must be made available as soon as possible so that sensible comparisons can be made," he said.

Western Cape Safety MEC Hennie Bester said the figures confirmed the seriousness of the crime situation in the province.

"The fact that the crime statistics have not been available, has not for one moment detracted from the urgency of the situation," he said.