By Edwin Herrendorfer
Crime in South Africa has spiralled uncontrollably. Thousands of innocent people are raped, assaulted, murdered, hijacked, robbed, and exposed to all sorts of crimes each day. As a result, life in the country has become a nightmare for most law-abiding citizens.
Yet some argue that, overall, crime is on the decline. Is this true? What about the thousands of cases that go unreported, or the cover-ups by those wishing to hide the frightening reality from South Africans and the world?
While some sources may attempt to prove that the crime rate has recently gone down, in reality it may have increased, quite substantially. Crime rates, or the number of crimes recorded by the police, are notoriously unreliable as a reflection of the real crime situation, and even worse as an indicator of police performance. This is because crime rates rely on members of the public reporting crime, and the police recording it. It is a known fact, however, that most crimes go unreported. And since statistics are based on actual, reported cases, then all crimes must be much higher than the reported figures released to the public.
Let's look at one alarming scenario, rape.
According to Rape Crisis, South Africa has the highest per capita rate of REPORTED rape in the world. This excludes the up to 70% of all rapes, which go unreported. Therefore, if there were 54 310 REPORTED rapes, indecent assaults and incest cases, and only 1 in 20 is reported, then the actual figure is 1 086 200, which is 2 976 rapes per day, or more than two a minute. Moreover, the figure of one rape every 26 seconds is based on a reporting rate of around 1 in 20, and not the 1 in 36 claimed by the South African Police Services in 1997.
What does this say about the rest of the crimes committed in South Africa that go unreported? An article on the Pravda Forum entitled “Ten Years after Apartheid (1994 - 2004): The Raw Facts” states that “Crime (in SA) is so high, the Government put a moratorium on the release of crime statistics for a year & fudged them ever since...” Anything to make the government and police look good - and keep South Africans and the world from panicking, or be gripped by a fear which would be caused by the real situation!
According to a study by Ted Leggett of the Institute for Security Studies, police statistics show that commonly underreported crimes have been going up, while those most likely to be reported (murder, car theft, and business burglary) are in decline. This study further states that the South African Police Service (SAPS) claims that it has stabilised crime far in advance of targeted dates, but uses a very weak line of argument in support of this contention.
Comparing old 'unreliable' statistics with new, 'still unreliable' statistics, the state uses recorded crime rates to make its case, side-stepping the fact that, in terms of raw numbers:
• Overall crime levels are still on the increase.
• Recorded crime in many significant categories, such as robbery, is still increasing dramatically.
• Recorded crime in some regions - the Western Cape in particular - is soaring.
• Furthermore, in refuting claims that South Africa is the 'crime capital of the world', the SAPS trots out a range of spurious comparisons in their statistical report:
• Murder rates are compared between Washington, D.C., the city with the highest murder rates in the US, and Pretoria, which has the lowest murder rates of any major city in South Africa presumably on the basis that they are both capitals.
• Johannesburg is compared to Diadema, Sao Paolo, Brazil, not on the basis that the two areas are in any way comparable, but because Diadema is one sliver of the world that once had a higher murder rate.
• 'Very serious violent crimes' make up just over 10% of overall crime, with the bizarre conclusion that the 'chances of becoming a victim of serious violent crime are just over one out of ten crimes reported to the police'.
However, just because the SAPS makes some questionable arguments, it does not mean that their central contention - that crime is not as bad as the numbers make it seem is wrong. The greatest problem with claims that crime has stabilised is not the argument, but the subject matter.
Crime Rates True or False?
The following bizarre examples from the United Nations Development Programme statistics, illustrate the extent to which reporting rates can distort crime rates:
• Canada has the second highest rate of recorded rape in the world (267 per 100 000), second only to Estonia in the UNDP statistics.
• The rate of drug crimes in Switzerland (574 per 100 000) is more than 10 times that of Colombia (40 per 100 000).
• The rate of total crimes in Denmark (10 508 per 100 000) is more than five times that of the Russian Federation (1 779 per 100 000) and more than 100 times that of Indonesia (80 per 100 000).
• The fact that declining crime rates are not an indicator of the real crime situation raises questions about the manner in which the SAPS have benchmarked declines in recorded crime.
Different Crimes mean different Methods of Recording
It needs to be considered that the likelihood of victims reporting crime, and the police recording them, is not the same in every country. Crime victims are less likely to report crime in a country with an oppressive or incompetent police force than in a country where the police are helpful and trustworthy. The distances people have to travel to the nearest police station, and the availability of transport to get there, is another factor, which can affect crime-reporting rates. Multiple offences are not recorded uniformly in all countries. In some countries only the most serious offence reported in a single incident is recorded, while in others all offences reported are recorded. Differences in data quality between countries are also a factor. In developed countries, recorded crimes are entered into a computerised database and channelled to a central point for analysis. In many less developed countries, crime statistics are recorded only on paper, which can easily result in the loss of some of the statistics.
It is estimated that victim surveys suggest between 60% and 70% more crime than that reported by official sources. However, these surveys cannot be wholly trusted for the simple fact that they almost entirely exclude victims from rural areas and small towns, where most victims never come forward. How many people in rural areas have telephones? Many of these surveys are conducted via telephone. Moreover, companies or organisations that conduct victims' surveys never publish their survey questionnaires for others to determine how they reached the conclusions. Neither do they make necessary data available so that it can be reworked.
In addition, it is very difficult to define crimes in different countries. In some countries, for instance, the murder rate is calculated by the number of cases going to court and not by the actual murders committed. Other countries calculate the murder rate by the actual, known and reported cases that have been committed. Theft of food is not a crime in many Muslim countries. It is a reflection of something wrong in the country as a whole. In Africa, especially, it is extremely difficult to obtain actual statistics. Most of it is rural, undeveloped, and its people poor and illiterate
Are Crime Rates a Measure of Police Performance?
Good police performance could conceivably impact on the crime rate in a variety of ways, one being an increase in the number of crimes recorded and the basis on which crime rates are determined. This is obvious in areas such as drug offences, where the number of crimes recorded is almost exclusively reliant on proactive police work, but it is also true for a range of other types of crime that may be picked up on patrol and which would otherwise go unreported.
The use of recorded crime as a performance measure in the current South African context is especially problematic, as research in this country has shown that upwards of 50% of crime in many important categories goes unreported. This is particularly true for interpersonal crimes such as domestic violence and rape.
Playing with crime figures
On the whole, we have authorities who do not seem to know what they are doing, except mess around with statistics, churning out wrong information to a gullible public that will believe anything simply because it comes from the state or a state department. It is easy for the police to simply avoid recording a range of crimes they encounter. The easiest way for the police to reduce the crime rate is simply to do nothing but record only those crimes where a case number is absolutely mandatory, such as cases involving deaths or insured property.
Clearly, crime stats, as reported to the public, do not reflect reality and they certainly do not reflect police performance. This clearly demonstrates that no matter what the police do, no matter how many uniforms flood the streets, they cannot reduce crime, viz. reported or recorded and unreported or unrecorded crimes. It does not say anything for the thousands of cases that have not been reported, or which the police did not record.
Considering this, the SA government is implementing the Firearms Control Act, which will disarm law-abiding citizens. Dr Richard Wesson, author of 'Conditioned Victim? Your Choice!' has statistically shown that the firearm murder rate for 1999 dropped over 1 per 100 000 since 1994. From 1994 to 1997 Firearm murder rates fell by over 1.75 per 100 000, a drop of almost 6.5% over the period, despite (or because of?) an increase of about 777963 new firearm licences issued. He comments, “It is of importance to note that the percentage of firearm murders using handguns has dropped over the period 1994-1999 from 81.75% to 59.80%, a drop of 22%. This is a real drop of 1961 handgun murders per year!
These comparative figures, in themselves, disprove the hypothesis that licensed firearms, or their owners, cause an increase in crime or violence. Indeed these figures would suggest the very opposite! Most new firearms licensees bought handguns. This also disproves the hypothesis that licensed ownership of handguns increases the number of murders. These figures can only suggest that increasing licensed firearm ownership acts as an increasing deterrence against opportunistic, confrontational crime.”
An increase in any society, of law abiding firearm owners, will make a significant positive impact against lawlessness and for security. That is a fact.