Johannesburg – Measuring police performance through crime statistics could give rise to perverse incentives, two researchers said on Wednesday at a seminar in Pretoria.
"Police performance in South Africa is largely measured on the basis of whether crime is increasing or decreasing, as indicated by statistics provided by stations," Andrew Faull of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and David Bruce of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) said.
"Police are considered to be performing well when the level of crime decreases, and poorly when it is shown to increase.
"However, assessing police performance in this way can result in perverse incentives that undermine effective policing."
Bruce said the decrease in five particular categories of violent crime since 2004 could not be logically explained and could not be the result of effective policing alone.
No correlation between trends
These crimes are attempted murder, assault with intent to commit grievous bodily harm, common assault, aggravated robbery and common robbery.
"It is reasonable to assume that there should be some correlation between trends in attempted murder and trends in murder," he said.
"How (is it) then that attempted murder is decreasing at a rate five times greater than murder? If the reduction is a result of government efforts to reduce violent crime, how is it that it was able to reduce attempted murder so dramatically, but not murder itself?"
He said the decline in certain violent crimes could only be explained by non-recording of incidents at a number of police stations.
The government's previous crime reduction target of between 7% and 10% per year contributed to the problem of non-recording.
Faull pointed out that target-setting could have negative effects on policing.
He said in the case of a roadblock, police may be so busy trying to reach a target for stopping a certain number of cars that they neglected the real reason for the roadblock – searching the cars for evidence of possible criminal activity.
Themba Masuku of the Community Agency for Social Enquiry said it was very important that reliable crime statistics be made available on a regular basis.
He said it was also important for the police to discuss and contextualise statistics so that communities understood the threat posed by crime.
The conclusion was that crime statistics should not be released by the police, but rather by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster of ministries.
Police performance indicators should also be reviewed and developed.