Combating crime required a progressive, multifaceted and community-driven campaign, not police arrest quotas and the unnecessary use of force.
We are a scared society, too aware of the existence of a culture of violence and of our country’s violent past. We become desensitised to crime and immune to news of murder, rape and violence – until new incidents jolt us out of complacency once more.
Marikana made us look at the use of force by the police. The Anene Booysen case reignited discussions on gender-based violence. Oscar Pistorius has brought up issues of gun control, crime and, once more, gender-based violence. His trial will turn the world’s attention to our criminal justice system and to the efficiency of our police.
In 1996, the government recognised the need for intervention and introduced the national crime prevention strategy. It took a holistic approach to the complex issues of crime, violence, safety and justice. It focused on identifying the root causes of crime and recognised that the police alone cannot be expected to address this multifaceted issue. It called on a number of departments to work together, specifically health, social development and education.
This progressive approach was reiterated in the 1998 white paper on safety and security, which defined crime prevention as all activities that reduce, deter or prevent the occurrence of specific crimes, firstly by altering the environment, secondly by changing the conditions that cause them, and lastly by providing a strong deterrent in the form of an effective criminal justice system.
But crime rates escalated in 1998. There was a public outcry; the government needed to show it was taking immediate and visible steps to address crime and that community safety was a priority.
The number of police officials increased dramatically as mass recruitment was undertaken. For the average onlooker, this made sense: Surely having more police officials would be directly related to a reduction in crime?
Yet this was not the result. The mass recruitment meant that large numbers of inexperienced individuals were given great power and responsibility. Good police officers require proper training and years of experience. Without it, the result was poorer-quality investigations, police inefficiency and abuses of power.
To show that crime was being combated, a policy was adopted of setting individual targets, monthly station targets and shift targets. Today there is intense organisational pressure on station commanders to ensure that the area they are responsible for is “performing” well.
As a result, as Andrew Faull says in Missing the Target, the police concentrated on the “need to deliver on paper rather than in practice”.
The average officer is more concerned with meeting his or her daily arrest quota than with crime prevention. This is clearly demonstrated in Khayelitsha, where the number of arrests have been inflated. There are cases, for instance, of people being arrested for carrying pocket knives, only to have the case withdrawn in court because the individuals posed no immediate danger to anybody. The quota policy means that police officers have to go out and look for reasons to make arrests, rather than seek to protect the public.
At the public hearing of the Western Cape Community Safety Bill, Gareth Newham, from the Institute for Security Studies, said that two million young South Africans have had violent interactions with the police. These individuals no longer see the police as protectors. Relationships have been severed; there has been a loss of respect for the police.
Minimum sentences for serious crimes have been increased in the hope that this will act as a deterrent to committing crime. But this is futile when criminals do not believe that they will be prosecuted.
Successful prosecution is a problem globally: DH Bayley’s 1994 study found that Canada could only solve 45% of its reported crime, Britain 35%, Australia 30% and the United States 22%. The situation has not improved much since then – Statistics Canada says that in 2010 only 42% of crimes were solved.
Locking up criminals temporarily removes them from society, but at the end of their sentences they are likely to come out of prison more involved in criminality than when they went in, not less. The longer a person is in prison, the more difficult it becomes to reintegrate into society and the individual becomes more likely to commit a crime again.
Changing the design of areas can make it more difficult for crime to take place. Local government sees this as the preferred method of crime prevention and substantial amounts of money have been invested in closed circuit television and visible policing by metro police departments. Communities that can afford it have also invested in city improvement districts, private security and electric fencing. These methods may lead to the reduction of crime in specific areas, but they do not solve the overarching problem.
For all these reasons, the Campaign for Safe Communities calls for individuals, community organisations, research institutions, civil servants, students, businesses, security organisations, faith-based organisations and non-governmental organisations to join and support it. The campaign was born out of the 2012 commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha, prompted by the active complaints of the civil-society organisations involved. The campaign will be launched in Cape Town on March 27.
We need a progressive, multifaceted and community-driven campaign to improve the safety of all people in South Africa.
Daniel Hofmeyr is the co-ordinator of the Campaign for Safe Communities and a legal researcher at Ndifuna Ukwazi