Visible policing and the extensive deployment of law enforcement officers played a big role in the “crime holiday” during the nationwide lockdown, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Briefing the media on Friday on the latest crime statistics for the first quarter of 2020/2021 financial year, Cele also revealed that 163 officers have been arrested since the start of the lockdown for violating the regulations.
“Maintaining high density visibility during a pandemic has come at a high cost. Despite our best efforts to keep the virus at bay by wearing personal protective equipment, sanitising our hands, vehicles and work stations and by maintaining social distancing while enforcing the law, more than 14 000 (14 182) of our members tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus,” said Cele.
He said most of these infections occurred when the officers were on the frontlines.
Cele said to date, 298 252 people have been arrested and charged with contraventions of the Disaster Management Act and 181 579 were released on warnings to appear before a court.
He said that 28 337 of those arrested were found guilty of violations ranging from liquor, gathering, transport, business and cross border related offences.
“Unfortunately, most of the people arrested will come out with criminal records and it is not our aim to criminalise South Africans. “This is why the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services [Ronald Lamola] is looking at this issue,” said Cele.
The overall statistics showed major decreases in all crime categories compared to the same period last year.
Cele said South Africa was experiencing a “crime holiday”.
The figures also showed a reduction in crimes committed against women and children during levels 4 and 5 of the lockdown.
However, the low numbers of domestic abuse and sexual offences reported cases could be due to some women not being able to escape their abusers, so they ended up not reporting the crimes.
Cele said they recorded a 39.7% drop in crimes such as rape and sexual assault.
A 40.4% decrease in the number of rape cases was reported during the first three months of the lockdown.
“It is equally important to acknowledge that the unavailability of alcohol also had a role to play. This is evident in the decreased numbers of cases of contact crimes which plummeted by 37.4%.
This means there were 53 891 less cases of murder, attempted murder, assault to cause grievous bodily harm, common robbery and common assault reported compared to the same reporting period,” said Cele.