Is government telling us the whole truth about crime stats?

24 October 2017 - 13:07 By Farren Collins
Academics and NGOs believe that the annual crime stats are compiled from broader crime data – which could be used to compare annual trends‚ but was not very useful for developing local crime prevention strategies.
Academics and NGOs believe that the annual crime stats are compiled from broader crime data – which could be used to compare annual trends‚ but was not very useful for developing local crime prevention strategies.
Image: Kheng Ho Toh/123RF.com

What is government hiding from us? According to experts‚ officials are not sharing all of the crime statistics that police capture daily. Releasing all the statistics could help communities and safety organisations better protect themselves from crime.

Every day‚ police stations are required to capture information on reported crimes – including times‚ dates and locations‚ as well as demographics of those involved and the types of weapons and vehicles used – through SAPS’ Crime Administration System (CAS). According to the SAPS official website‚ a “complainant will receive a CAS number via SMS or telephonic [sic] that needs to be kept as reference for future enquiries regarding the criminal case’’.

But this kind of granular data is not making its way to the public.

Academics and NGOs believe that the annual police crime stats released on Tuesday are compiled from broader crime data – which could be used to compare annual trends‚ but was not very useful for developing local crime prevention strategies.

“They have incredibly rich data about crime‚” said the head of the Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice division‚ Gareth Newham.

“If you open a docket‚ all the detailed information of a crime is available‚ and all that information is captured on the Crime [Administration] System and is geo-located.

“That level of data will enable incredible crime-prevention plans to be developed. All they release now are just numbers for very broad categories like murder‚ certain kinds of robberies‚ assault and that kind of thing.”

The CAS statistics are used for police operational planning‚ according to Centre for Criminology at the University of Cape Town researcher Anine Kriegler‚ who said there were very good reasons to release the information more frequently and in more detail.

“Absolutely – it could help communities respond more quickly and effectively to developing crime situations‚” Kriegler said.

“I think more importantly‚ it would encourage a sense of public ownership and faith in the figures. It wouldn’t be a matter of seeing a dump of thousands of figures once a year‚ but individuals would be able to go online and see whether their crime incident has made it properly onto the system within weeks.”

Senior researcher at the Social Justice Coalition Dalli Weyers said that police were not sticking to a commitment made last year to also release crime statistics quarterly.

“The annual crime stats are from the previous financial year‚ and are often months old when they are released. More timely stats are needed that will be more beneficial to communities.”

Kriegler believes that one of the reasons for keeping most of the data under wraps is that the SAPS does not have the capacity to capture‚ clean‚ check and publicise the statistics frequently.

“The other reason always given is that crime stats are required to be presented to parliament before being made public. I think this gives the impression that the police essentially are only answerable to parliament‚ when they should more properly be answerable to their communities.”

Asked for a breakdown of farm murders by FF Plus MP Pieter Groenewald‚ acting police commissioner Lieutenant-General Lesetja Mothiba said a lot of detail was omitted from the data that was released as there was not enough time to present it‚ and including it would make the statistics release “thicker than the Bible”. He said the data was‚ however‚ available.

- Additional reporting by Bianca Capazorio

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