Questions raised over crime statistics.

Posted On Wednesday, 07 May 2003 02:00 Published by
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it is still not clear what the moratorium on release of statistics has achieved.
AN ANALYSIS of recent national and provincial crime statistics suggests crime levelled off to a certain extent during 2001-02, with commercial crime showing a substantial decline.

 But researchers are questioning the usefulness of the information provided by the police.

 Crime statistics used to be published quarterly, but are now available only yearly. The latest report was released towards the end of last year and was structured according to government's financial year, April 1 to March 31, rather than January to December, as was previously the case.

 Antoinette Louw of the Institute for Security Studies says the change is inconvenient from a research perspective. "The statistics used to be released in a calendar year and it now makes it difficult to accurately compare the figures," she said. "It is also hard to get information from the police over and above the information found in the report."

 Written requests for previous statistics from the same period as the one covered by the report have been mostly unsuccessful, with researchers being passed from pillar to post, Louw says.

 "In a country like SA, where crime is as serious as it is, there is a need to assess the statistics right down to (police) station level.

 "The national crime rate is also calculated as per 100000 of the population'. This is problematic because it depends on which population figures you base your calculations on. It would be easier to be given the actual number."

 Louw says that even if the statistics are released more frequently, without detailed information it will be "hard to look at trends in comparison to province, area and police station", which were available previously.

 She says it is still not clear what the moratorium on the release of statistics has achieved . "It has never been clear to the full extent what happened during the moratorium and what measures were taken to make the statistics more efficient."

 In July 2000 the safety and security minister at the time, Steve Tshwete, imposed a moratorium on crime statistics and a task team was appointed to oversee how police gathered and disseminated the information. The rationale was that it would be irresponsible of the police to continue to disseminate inaccurate information that could result in a misrepresentation of the truth.

 A ministerial committee of inquiry had in fact been appointed in 1997 by Tshwete's predecessor, Sydney Mufamadi, to look into the gathering of crime statistics.

 The committee found problems relating to: the recording of exact crime locations; crime classification (for example aggravated versus common robbery or serious assault versus attempted murder); and updating police data with the outcome of the case once it had been through the court system.

 Importantly, the committee found the routine and widespread public scepticism about crime levels were unfounded, and, far from recommending a moratorium on the release of statistics, it suggested information be released more regularly.

 It said that if too little information was seen to be released infrequently, the credibility of the data that were made available, would probably be questioned by the public. The report suggested that there be monthly "crime briefs" describing the latest crime statistics. To the contrary, the moratorium was put in place.

 When President Thabo Mbeki opened parliament in February 2001, he said 3000 people would be trained and 600 recruited to specialise in crime information. Mbeki said the moratorium would be lifted. That was duly done in June that year.

 In April 2001, a coalition of six nongovernmental organisations had challenged the legality of the moratorium in court, saying it hampered their ability to operate.

 By November 2001, Chris de Kock, head of the police's Crime Information Analysis Centre, said SA's crime-reporting system was one of the most sophisticated in the world.

 Yet shortly after his appointment as safety and security minister early last year, Charles Nqakula placed another moratorium on the release of crime statistics, saying that the statistics would henceforth be released only once a year "if appropriate" because the regular release of crime figures served only to demoralise society. This led to speculation by opposition parties and civil society that claims about the stabilisation of serious crime were unfounded.

 The crime figures for 2001-02 were finally released in September last year, and when questions were raised about the delay, police commissioner Jackie Selebi asked what was to be done with the information. "Do they want to write academic theses?"

 Selebi says the police have also adjusted "categories of crimes" and ensured that they are better understood by staff.

       
    May 07 2003 06:49:53:000AM Chantelle Benjamin  Business Day 1st Edition

Publisher: Business Day
Source: Chantelle Benjamin

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