Is crime on the rise? Police chief Bheki Cele will tell us today

11 September 2018 - 06:00 By ANDISIWE MAKINANA and NICO GOUS
Police minister Bheki Cele will lead a police delegation to Parliament on Tuesday to officially release the latest batch of crime statistics.
Police minister Bheki Cele will lead a police delegation to Parliament on Tuesday to officially release the latest batch of crime statistics.

Police minister Bheki Cele will be in the spotlight on Tuesday morning when he leads a delegation to release the annual crime statistics, first to Parliament and then to the country.

The statistics will cover the financial year that ended in March 2018.

Cele was only appointed police minister in February this year, a month before the financial year ended. Any positive developments will have to be attributed to his predecessor, Fikile Mbalula, who held the position during the period under review.

Regarding his return to the portfolio - this time as a minister and not the national police commissioner - Cele has said he should be judged on the results of his work.

“Look at the crime statistics of 2010–11 and look at murder, because you can’t cheat with murder statistics,” he said earlier this year, two days after his appointment as minister. “We reduced the number of murders to 16,000 from 18,000. The murder rate was going down by 1,000 every year before that, but we reduced it by 2,000 in that financial year.” 

Comparatively, there were just more than 19,000 murders in 2016–17, up from 18,673 the year before.

Mbalula is also likely to keep a keen eye on Tuesday's stats, as it was his short stint as the police's political head that covered most of the period under review. Former president Jacob Zuma made Mbalula police minister during his controversial midnight Cabinet reshuffle in March 2017 – and Mbalula took on the challenge with great exuberance.

Some criticised Mbalula for his rambunctious approach. He declared himself "Mr Fear Fokkol" and was often seen as more involved in the operational side of police work - from stamping and certifying documents at a police station to opening his Twitter account to ordinary people to report crime – even posing for pictures with suspects.

But while the crime statistics will grip the country once again, experts believe they are not the be all and end all.

Instead, University of Cape Town crime expert Anine Kriegler told TimesLIVE that the focus should be on police performance and response times, as well as complaints against the police and their clearance rates.

Kriegler warned against drawing conclusions about Cele’s performance based on the numbers.

“If we want to know how Cele is doing, we need to wait until the full South African Police Service annual report is released. That will give us the really important info on response times, complaints against the police, case clearance rates and so on. That is how we should be measuring police performance, not the crime stats,” Kriegler said.

She noted, however, that the statistics on the number of cases of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition – “which may be a reasonable measure of how hard police are working to find illegal firearms, for example through door-to-door or roadblock operations” – were important.

“Firearms drive lots of other crime, including robberies and of course murders and attempted murders,” she said.

Our murder rate is on the increase … Especially the murder of women and children
Unisa crime expert Rudolph Zinn

Meanwhile, University of South Africa crime expert Rudolph Zinn said he expected crime numbers to decrease - but that violent crime would remain a problem.

“Our murder rate is on the increase … Especially the murder of women and children,” Zinn said.

According to the 2016–17 police statistics, there were 52 attempted murders and 61 home robberies per day on average‚ with 46 vehicles hijacked daily – along with 16 aggravated robberies occurring every hour, a rate of 386 per day. There was an 1.8% year-on-year increase in murders.

Zinn said: “What we have seen over the past decade is that the number of reported crimes remains stable at about 2.1-million. The fluctuations and differences we see are among crime categories, so one increases and the other decreases.”

Kriegler believes non-violent property crimes such as burglary and car theft will continue to fall, and that violent property-related crimes such as house robbery and carjacking will rise.

“[Carjacking] has seen the biggest increases in the past five years, although it isn’t yet back up to the level of the late 1990s,” she said.