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By Sydney Majoko


Police crime stats remain an exercise in futility

What we lack is leadership to measure the right crime variables and act decisively on them.

Business management expert Peter Drucker said: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

When then minister of police Steve Tshwete passed away while in office in 2002, South Africa’s crime statistics were being released every quarter. Incoming minister Charles Nqakula then took the decision to have the statistics released annually.

There were very valid reasons for the move, among which was that releasing damning stats of an ever-increasing crime rate created a state of permanent panic among citizens and allowed a state of fear to prevail in the police ranks when it came to dealing with crime.

The unintended consequence of releasing the crime statistics on an annual basis led to a situation where police worked in a vacuum, trying to improve something that wasn’t being properly measured.

The second and most troubling consequence of the move was that station commanders then found it expedient to focus on keeping the stats for their particular station low, not by reducing crime itself, but by making it difficult to report cases in their precincts.

It became common for police officers to tell members of the public to report certain incidents of crime only in the area where they occurred, thus avoiding an extra case being associated with their station.

Last week Police Minister Bheki Cele released the latest crime stats, and the picture looks grim. Crime has increased in all categories, although by differing margins. The one aspect of the stats that people tend to focus on, and for good reason, is the murder rate, which went up by 3.4%.

In layman’s terms, up to 58 people are murdered every day in South Africa. That’s a staggering figure. It gets worse: a significant percentage of that figure is murder committed by children. Even worse is the fact that most murder victims know their killer.

Drucker’s assertion that you can’t improve what you can’t measure becomes quite clear in light of the fact that these statistics are termed police crime figures, with the implied meaning that police could have stopped the crime.

What is ignored is that when a boyfriend wakes up and decides to murder his girlfriend, police only come in after the fact. So instead of focusing on the stats as police stats, the measure should be of a different variable: what allows a murderer to decide they can murder a person known to them?

The answers might be more complicated than the current crime stats reveal but they are more likely to lead to a lasting solution and a real decrease in crime.

That change in focus by commanders to keeping stats down for their station has inadvertently led to less reporting of crime over the years. Petty crimes like vehicle break-ins are not reported if victims’ stolen goods were not insured. Or when a mugging happens and the victims loses a little cash and an uninsured cellphone. These keep actual crime statistics at police station levels down while in effect crime is increasing.

The result: an atmosphere where a potential murderer thinks they are above the law. Drucker is also quoted as saying “management is doing the right things, leadership is doing things right”.

What we lack is leadership to measure the right crime variables and act decisively on them. Until that’s done, police crime stats will remain an exercise in futility.

Sydney Majoko.

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