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Cele hits back over crime-stats criticism

New police National Commissioner Bheki Cele on Tuesday accused the Democratic Alliance (DA) of quoting him out of context as supporting a moratorium on crime statistics, while he had no personal preference on the matter.

The main opposition party at the weekend released an edited transcript of a radio talk show in which Cele appeared to indicate clearly that he would support a moratorium because criminals could ”use” the statistics.

A recording of the interview on SAfm’s After Eight Debate on Friday, however, reveals that Cele said he would favour suppressing statistics if the information could serve as a tip-off to criminals on police planning.

Pressed to say whether this meant he supported a moratorium, the commissioner answered: ”I will support that. But I will support whatever we do that gives us an upper edge to fight the crime. If releasing stats help us to fight crime better, I will support that. If a moratorium helps us better, I will support that.”

Asked again what option he would favour, Cele responded: ”I can’t express personal preferences. My preferences are basically based on the achievement and what do we achieve out of decisions we take.”

The famously outspoken successor to Jackie Selebi also said Interpol was looking at the wisdom of occasionally suppressing statistics, and said countries that could qualify as South Africa’s ”peer” nations, like those in Latin America, had opted not to disclose figures.

On Monday, the DA issued a media statement accusing Cele, an ANC national executive committee member and an ally of President Jacob Zuma, of playing politics.

DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard urged him to reverse his position on a moratorium on crime statistics.

”It quite frankly beggars belief that just a few days into his new job, the police commissioner would make such a blatantly politically motivated and completely counter-productive announcement, and the commissioner must re-evaluate his position on this matter right away,” she said.

Kohler Barnard said any potential advice from Interpol to publish statistics periodically did not amount to a moratorium, and mocked Cele for citing South and Central America as an example, because at least three states in the region had recently released crime figures.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Cele accused the DA of ”deliberately quoting the issue of a moratorium on the release of crime statistics out of context and further politicising the matter unnecessarily”.

He added that the DA was free to continue with ”the political bashing” while he would focus on fighting crime.

Crime statistics have been a controversial subject since government placed a moratorium on releasing the figures during former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration, because it felt they were misleading.

Police Ministry spokesperson Hangwani Maluadzi indicated on Monday that the police would continue to release crime statistics annually, but said the opposition was unhappy with this because they wanted it to be done ”monthly, weekly”. — Sapa

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