Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea


Crime stats should not be used to judge police performance, says expert

Statistics have nothing to do with who the minister of police or commissioner was, or changes in policies.

Experts have argued South Africa has not yet lost the battle against crime – but the quarterly crime statistics, released yesterday, tells a different story, with civil organisations calling this year the “bloodiest year in two decades”.

Action Society and the Democratic Alliance slammed both Police Minister Bheki Cele and the government, blaming political interference and mismanagement.

Director of Community Safety at Action Society Ian Cameron, said the statistics painted a picture of a police department failing its primary task.

“The Saps needs an entire strategic refocus, which will not happen with Cele and the rest of his management at the helm,” Cameron said.

Crime levels ‘almost entirely beyond control of police’

But University of Cape Town’s Criminologist Dr Anine Kriegler said crime stats were not a reflection of whether or not the Saps “dropped the ball”.

It should not be used to judge police performance, because crime levels were almost entirely beyond the control of the police.

“It should be based on things like docket management issues, abuse of power, irregular expenditure, corruption, case backlogs, DNA backlogs, firearm losses, and customer satisfaction,” she said.

“There are many things we should hold them responsible for, but the crime stats are not it.”

Kriegler said looking at the overall crime picture, it had nothing to do with who the minister of police or commissioner was, or little changes in policies.

“SA has had extremely high levels of violent crime for 60 years. During Covid, crime levels plummeted – not because the police suddenly got much better.

“We see the changes on a daily basis: Fridays and Saturdays seem to be the peak time and not because the police are suddenly doing their jobs.

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“What it’s telling us, is about our society and socio-economic issues. When you blame the police for the high crime stats, we are giving them an incentive to manipulate those; telling them to mark their own test, punishing them if they fail it. It doesn’t work,” said Kriegler.

Fewer police officers now than 10 years ago

Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), agreed and predicted a continued rise in crime, based on SA’s socioeconomic conditions, unemployment and poverty.

“On the side of the criminal justice system, they’ve been exposed in terms of the inability to deal with crime situation, the detection rate for murder has decreased,” he said.

“The police certainly have a central role, but they have not been performing well, in terms of the numbers over the last decade. The number of officers decreased by 11.5%, which means there are almost 15 000 fewer police officers now than a decade ago.”

Burger said while it was a joint responsibility, SA was moving backwards in terms of its response and capability to deal with crime. “We cannot blame it only on the police, but society as well.”

Good secretary-general Brett Herron also said the stats reflected a state that has lost touch with the needs of its people, and recommended measures such as recruiting extra police, and increasing the level of police training.

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“But only when government embarks on programmes to heal broken and dispirited communities will we begin to starve the relentless crime wave of fuel,” Herron said.

DA shadow minister of police Andrew Whitfield said the Saps failure under Cele was a reflection that President Cyril Ramaphosa was soft on crime. “It is unconscionable that Ramaphosa rewards Cele for his continued underperformance.”