South Africa

South Africa

Op-Ed: Minister Mbalula, can the crime reduction results really be measured currently?

Op-Ed: Minister Mbalula, can the crime reduction results really be measured currently?

In combatting crime we need to categorise and analyse the information and make this available, writes crime analyst CHRIS DE KOCK.

On Wednesday 7 June 2017 the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, during his introduction of the new acting national commissioner, Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba, to the Portfolio Committee on Police, according to the media made a lot of important statements. This inter alia included a statement that there must be measurable results from Operation Back to Basics and that policing must be Intelligence Led (ILP). According to a report in the Beeld of Thursday the 8th   he said “we must know what works and what does not work”. This analyst, with respect, want to put it to the minister, that this can’t really be measured against the current categories of crime which mostly do not include appropriate and operationally useful sub-categories.

A week before (31 May) this introduction of the new acting national commissioner, the Portfolio Committee had a less publicised session on the improvement of crime statistics. During this session where presentations were made by the SAPS, Statistics South Africa, Gareth Newham of the ISS, and the author of this article, it was clear that significant progress was made over the past two decades in the improvement of the validity of crime statistics. The latest step forward, was the appointment of a crime registrar with a staff and line of command right down to each police station in South Africa. This will hopefully ensure the correct registration of all crimes and counts of each crime in South Africa on a daily basis. Many of the members of the Portfolio Committee were still sceptical about the contact between the victim and the police during reporting in the Community Service Centre or at the crime scene. One can only agree that it will still be difficult and even impossible to ensure that the police officer on the scene or at the counter of the station does not convince the victim that no, or a less serious crime, was committed against him/her, despite the presence of a crime registrar officer in the station.

De Kock during his presentation and during the question and answer session, emphasised the following weaknesses in the compilation of crime statistics which should still be addressed urgently:

a) Although the crimes are registered according to legal categories all the possible operationally useful sub-categories should be identified and registered.

b) Crime statistics should never be seen as just crime statistics. Crime statistics at station level form the backbone of crime intelligence.

c) The crime information which is currently shared by SAPS with the Community Police Forums and other community stakeholders can’t really empower civilian participation in crime prevention.    

Now if the Minister of Police say there must be measurable results from the SAPS Operation Back to Basics (the approach which was basically implemented by then acting National Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane and strongly backed by Minister Nathi Nhleko) he is challenged by the fact that it can currently only be done for one category of more policeable crime (namely aggravated robbery). Even when it comes to aggravated robbery, SAPS intentionally or unintentionally, did not include all the subcategories of this crime in the trimester (April-December 2016) crime statistics release. They also did not include quarterly breakdowns of house robbery, business robbery, truck hijacking and carjacking.

An analysis of the available data in an article titled, “According to the 1 April 2016 to 31 December 2016 crime statistics, the Back to Basics Approach failed to show clear more policeable crime reductions so far” (See led this author to believe that it was deliberate and to mislead the public of South Africa to think that the strategy is working.

The essence of analysis in both the social and natural sciences is to take a phenomena and to break it down in to its smallest components/parts to broaden the knowledge of the dynamics of this phenomena. To understand the relationships between components and the inner workings of the phenomena. This should never be done as an “airy fairy” purely academic pursuit. Analysis should always be done in the interest of humankind to stimulate knowledge which can be used to stimulate positive/good phenomena and reduce negative/bad phenomena. Crime analysis focus on the phenomena of crime and all that was just said about analysis in general, apply here. This is especially true in a country which is rated in an eighth position from the top on the murder spectrum, according to the 2015 Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace. The GPI includes 162 independent countries which represent 99.6% of the world population. South Africa is also the only country outside of the Americas, which has four cities/metros on the top 50 most violent cities in the world (according to a 2016 report of the Mexico Citizens Council for Public Security).

This analyst is sure that the minister will agree that a) a case where an intimate partner is killed in the middle of the night in the privacy of an apartment and then taken to a veld, burnt beyond recognition and left there b) a case where three gunmen entered a bar demanding money and then shot at customers and staff killing three and wounding two and c) a case where a 54-year-old garden worker on his way home with his meagre weekly pay of R700 was killed in a dark alley of Khayelitsha, are not preventable to the same extent and in all probability need different prevention strategies to try and prevent similar crimes from occuring in the future.

Policing crime consists of three basic functions, namely: a) crime prevention, b) detection of perpetrators where crime were not prevented, and if perpetrators are detected, it then also become prevention in the sense that it prevent them of committing further crime and c) crime intelligence which should underpin both prevention and detection. The murder case of the intimate partner in the paragraph above (case a) could barely be prevented by the police except for some public awareness campaigns and examples made by the successful prosecution of previous perpetrators. In these social/social fabric crimes the only function of the police which will be used optimally is detection. These crimes should be called less policeable. In the case of examples b) and c) in the previous paragraph all three functions and especially prevention based on solid crime intelligence (see next article on intelligence-led policing) should be used and it will be called more policeable crimes.

Any police service/agency’s line function performance when it comes to prevention, can only be measured against more policeable crimes. If a police service is not in a position to prevent most of the types of crimes described in b) and c) in the previous paragraph, the detection and prosecution functions of the state will become so congested that it may become paralysed. When it comes to less policeable crimes like a) in the previous paragraph, the effectiveness of the police and the justice system should be measured against successful prosecution, since in most of the cases there should be an arrest, because the perpetrator should mostly be a known person.

So if Minister Mbalula wants to know “what of the Back to Basics Approach work and what does not work”, he has to determine which of the more policeable sub-crimes are reduced by prevention, and if the proportion of less policeable crimes which are successfully prosecuted is increasing or not.

Unfortunately for the minister and all other crime analysts the existing common law categories of crime, with the exception of to a certain extent aggravated robbery, does not distinguish between more and less policeable, operationally useful, subcategories. Murder and attempted murder are just registered as such and rape actually disappears in a mixed bag of both more and less policeable sexual offences. Even if rape is sometimes provided separately, it does not distinguish between those kinds of rape which are more policeable and those kinds which are less policeable (eg gang rape, so-called “bonus rape” and “corrective rape” versus boyfriend-girlfriend rape).

As in the case of aggravated robbery, where for nearly two decades operational useful subcategories like: carjacking, truck hijacking, house robbery (robbery at residential premises), business robbery (robbery at non-residential premises), robbery of cash in transit, bank robbery and street/public robbery (by exclusion) were developed, subcategories should also be developed for murder, attempted murder and rape for a start.

Murder figures should be available (published) for at least those subcategories which were identified by a national docket analysis of 2,912 murder cases during April-September 2015 by the analysts of the Crime Registrar (see South African Police Services. Annual Crime Report 2015/2016. Addendum to the SAPS Annual Report. p.14) which inter alia include: murders as a result of: social conflict (arguments/misunderstandings, jealousy/love triangles), aggravated robbery, self-defence, faction fighting, initiation, road rage, witchcraft/muti-related activities, police and other law enforcement activities, mob justice/vigilantism, gang violence, taxi violence, political violence, xenophobia, homophobia, labour conflict, and ethnic conflict.

This author is very aware that colleagues, the public and last but not least SAPS, may criticise him for not doing something in this regard, while he was the Head of the Crime Information Analysis Centre (of SAPS) between 1995 and 2013. He and his staff succeeded to at least disaggregate aggravated robbery in the seven subcategories mentioned in the previous paragraph. But they could never overcome the severe resistance of SAPS management, especially from detective and legal quarters, against the operational disaggregation of the common law categories. On a few occasions he pushed it to such an extent that it was seen as at least disrespectful to authority, and bordering on insubordination.

After he retired in April 2013 he at every available opportunity condemned the fact that crime statistics are published not only in operationally useless common law based categories, but even grouped together in mixtures of more and less policeable crimes to hide serious increases in those crimes that the police could prevent. In his submissions to and evidence before the Khayelitsha Commission (O’Regan, C and Pikoli, V. 2014. Towards a safer Khayelitsha. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of Police Inefficiency and a Breakdown in Relations between SAPS and the Community of Khayelitsha.” in May 2014, he emphasised the importance of subcategories of common law crimes.

The Commission came up with a finding (p.386), that SAPS does not have: “… accurate reliable data or crime intelligence as to the extent of vengeance or vigilante attacks in Khayelitsha”. It then recommended (p.446) “…collect and monitor crime statistics in respect of the three Khayelitsha police stations and the FCS Unit, not only in relation to the 20 most serious crimes, but also in relation to crimes related to domestic violence, youth gangs, vigilantism, homophobic violence and xenophobic violence to enable adequate intelligence-led policing strategies to be developed to address these particular forms of crime”.

If that ever happened or not, in Khayelitsha Site B, Harare and Lingelethu West cannot be answered here, but it should have be implemented in all of the 1,140 stations of South Africa – then murder and attempted murder would not have escalated with the percentages that they did since 2011/2012. DM     

Chris De Kock is an independent analyst: crime, violence and crowd behaviour.

Photo: President Zuma and Minister Fikile Mbalula inspecting the mobile clinic given to the community. President Jacob Zuma addressing the community of Elsies River and surrounding areas during the Fight against Crime Imbizo held at Adriaanse Community Centre in Elsies River, Cape Town. 30 May 2017. (By GCIS)


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