Stop your bluster Cele, and do your job

Police National Commissioner Bheki Cele’s bullish stance on crime stats is not only wrong, it’s wrong-headed.

Cele was widely criticised this week for his assertion on SAfm that criminals could “use” the statistics and that this would complicate the police’s task.

He added that statistics were often used as a political instrument.

Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher in the Crime, Justice and Politics programme at the Institute for Security Studies, deftly rubbished Cele’s statements.

He told the M&G Online this week that withholding crime statistics would do more harm than good.

Burger said the police were not the custodians of crime figures, and that the South African Development Community and the Consumer Goods Council also kept crime figures.

Fear of political bashing was also a poor excuse, he said.

“You will always have parties who will use statistics as a handy tool to criticise. But you have to balance the advantages with the disadvantages. Political bashing disappears completely when compared to all the advantages [releasing the statistics] could have.”

For Burger, the “obvious reason” for calling a moratorium on the statistics was probably that “people within the police services have become oversensitive to criticism. That is the wrong reason. You cannot become less transparent just because you’ve been criticised. If crime statistics are not released the police will be even more criticised and people will draw negative conclusions from that.”

Cele backtracked, somewhat, few days later. Pressed on whether he supported a moratorium, he said: “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.”

The imbroglio brings to mind the political infighting seen in the crime mini-series The Wire. The series shows the backstabbing and intrigue in Baltimore, with politicians being elected on the back of a promising to reduce crime. They then put the squeeze on high-ranking police officials, who in turn come down on ordinary policeman. Those on the beat are then run ragged in their attempt to make up the numbers.

Crime remains one of South Africa’s major problems, and with the world’s gaze turning to the country ahead of 2010, there will be pressure to make a real difference on reducing crime. The commissioner needs to stop blustering about statistics and concentrate on what he is being paid to do. Take care of the crime and the statistics will take care of themselves.

Tokyo Sexwale
Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale spent a night this week in Diepsloot to get a better understanding of living conditions in the townships. Sure, it may be spin, but it’s heartening to see a politician actually getting out there.
Bheki Cele
Cele came under fire for comments he made on a radio show that seemed to back a moratorium on crime statistics. Hitting back at criticism, Cele claimed his words were twisted. Surely we have a right to know these statistics, particularly living a such a crime-ridden society.

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