Crime nightmare (23.09.09)

Crime nightmare (23.09.09)

By Alex Eliseev, Gill Gifford and Shaun Smillie

The crimes you fear the most are on the rise – with violent house robberies showing an alarming spike.

In Gauteng, the number of murders, house robberies, hijackings, burglaries and business robberies all increased between April 2008 and March 2009.

The latest crime statistics were released by the government yesterday, six months after the end of the period under review.

Experts have called the results "shocking", saying a long run of overall decreases in violent crime has ended, and that whatever the police are doing to bring down these crimes is not working.

Of the 29 categories of crime recorded for Gauteng, 20 show an increase. House robberies leapt from 7 314 to 8 122. Nationally, house robberies rose by 27 percent, totalling 18 438.

In Gauteng, sexual crimes (including rape) shot up from 15 074 to 17 902. Murder rose slightly from 3 674 to 3 884; burglaries jumped from 62 703 to 68 090; hijackings increased from 7 466 to 7 626; and business robberies (including mall robberies) rose from 5 098 to 6 216.

Nationwide, the picture is similar, with murder decreasing slightly from 18 487 to 18 148. Categories such as cash-in-transit heists, bank robberies and street attacks also showed a decline. Business robberies across the country rocketed from 9 862 to 13 920.

Crime researcher Johan Burger, of the Institute for Security Studies, said the results suggested the stats' late release was caused by the bad news they carried.

"One can only assume it's because it is mostly bad news," Burger said. He added that the government probably hoped the months that followed the reporting period (April to September) would see improvements.

Burger said house robberies (which have risen steadily for six years) and business robberies were the most worrying. He found it disheartening that despite special task teams set up to crack down on trio-crimes (house and business robberies, and hijackings), the crimes were rising.

"Either, what the police are doing they are not doing effectively, or they are doing the wrong things. Or both. The police will have to revisit what they are doing in fighting the trio crimes."

Dr Rudolph Zinn, of the School of Criminal Justice at Unisa, accused the police of not collecting proper crime intelligence that could be used in combating house robberies.

"The police need to collect information from a variety of sources in order to draw a proper picture of crime," he explained.

Overall, the government's target to lower contact crimes by 7 to 10 percent a year seems a long way off, Burger added.

He said increases in crimes like shoplifting and attacks on small businesses indicated that the global economic meltdown had played a role.

"People are increasingly suffering economically, and this could contribute to these increases."

He said more police patrols in high-risk residential suburbs were crucial, as was collecting more intelligence about criminal syndicates and infiltrating them sooner.

Researcher David Bruce, of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, believes the statistics may not be accurate and that the true picture is even worse.

He said that while the recorded steep increases showed a level of transparency, there were "implausible trends" apparent in the stats.

"There is no reason why crimes like common robbery should have declined so dramatically, while at the same time you have such a radical problem with the trio crimes," Bruce said.

The cause for the "implausible trend", he suggests, could be the government's target on contact crimes. This target, decided on in January 2004, has been criticised by researchers and analysts as unrealistic and not achievable.

Bruce maintains the implementation of this target may have created pressure on police officers at station level to lower their stats irrespective of what was happening.

"I am inclined to question if the real situation is not worse. The reduction in common robbery and common assault suggests that the pressure of the reduction target and the performance charter system may be a perverse incentive for the low recording of crimes.

"So we see a substantial improvement or a reduction in reports in categories where the police can get away with not recording the crimes," Bruce said.

But Business Against Crime South Africa (Bacsa) did see a glimmer of hope in the measures introduced to fight crime.

These included "filling of critical positions in the forefront of the fight against crime, the auditing of skills levels within the SAPS, the augmenting of Crime Intelligence, and the improvement of the criminal justice system", said Bacsa's Graham Wright.


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CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

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