Festive season crime stats leave many questions

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega. (Gallo)

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega. (Gallo)

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Thursday released preliminary crime statistics for the festive season, saying that from interim reports, the festive season anti-crime operations were “overwhelming successes”. But reaction to the numbers has been mixed.

The South Africa Police Service’s (SAPS) festive season crime fighting operation, Operation Duty Calls, began on October 15 last year and ends officially at the end of January.

He listed the SAPS achievements as including the searching of 1 477 901 persons and 501 373 vehicles, and conducting 3 614 roadblocks. Over 67 000 suspects were arrested and a total of 51 191 fines were issued during the period.

“We want to assure South Africans going forward, that we have taken positive lessons from these festive season operations. We have a plan, we have the commitment of our members and we shall sustain the momentum in the fight against crime,” he said.

Simi Pillay-van Graan, chief executive of Business Against Crime South Africa, said the figures were encouraging and a clear indicator that crime can be controlled.

"It is evident that policing violent and other serious crime was high on the agenda of the festive season operations, and while the police have made 67 000 arrests, it also raises a concern that these crimes are occurring at a very high rate over a short period of time,” she said.

Decline in number of arrests
But others were more skeptical. The DA’s spokesperson for crime and policing, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said that if one compared the results of this year’s festive season campaign with the previous year’s, the number of arrests had declined “massively”.

“Last year a total of 543 241 suspects were arrested in [the festive season campaign]. In this latest one they arrested 67 000. It’s an extraordinary and inexplicable drop,” she said.

This means that even though last year’s figures were calculated over a slightly longer period – from October 10 until January 5 – police made about eight times more arrests during the 2011/2012 festive season campaign than they did in the season just passed.

“Is this the result of high level visible policing or did police simply do a lot less during that period?” she asked.

Meanwhile Lizette Lancaster, manager of the crime and justice hub at the Institute for Security Studies, said that if the campaign was as successful as the minister claimed, it needed to be continued in the long term. “It's commendable but also leaves a lot of questions into its long-term success,” she said.

"If it’s such a successful campaign we need more of it and it needs to be implemented consistently. The festive season might be a high crime period but we have other [high crime periods] too, and crime sprees can happen at any time.”

Comparing the stats
Lancaster however also pointed out that it would be difficult to measure the success of the campaign in the long term as no direct link could be made with the annual crime statistics that will be released later this year.

“The police only release annual figures. They do not reveal monthly figures. So people will not know if they’re safer because of operations like this,” she said.

She also said it would be difficult to tell whether the arrests effected by police during the festive season would result in successful prosecutions.

“These 67 000 arrests are quite significant but what will happen to these arrests in court and what is the outcome of these cases? We don’t know and we don’t get to see that information,” she said.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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