/ 6 November 2013

Police on crime stats: We dismiss flawed argument by ISS

ISS analyst Gareth Newham and M&G reporter Sarah Evans unpack the realities that lie beneath the numbers from this year's national crime statistics.
ISS analyst Gareth Newham and M&G reporter Sarah Evans unpack the realities that lie beneath the numbers from this year's national crime statistics.

The police ministry dismissed the Institute for Security Studies' (ISS) criticism on Wednesday that the latest crime statistics were flawed.

"As the ministry of police, we dismiss ISS' flawed argument that the statistics are not reflective of the crime situation in the country.

We stand by our statistics entirely," spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said.

The ISS said errors in statistics were due to inaccurate population figures being used to compare the change in crime ratios between 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Mnisi said: "We did not thumb-suck the population growth and ratio because in our calculation of all crime categories we are informed by Statistics South Africa's census."

The police would not announce incorrect statistics, he said.

Earlier in the day, ISS governance, crime and justice division head Gareth Newham said the crime statistics the police released in September contained a miscalculation.

"The effect of this miscalculation is that it downplays the extent to which certain serious, violent crime categories are rising in South Africa, while exaggerating those categories that are decreasing," he said in a statement.

"What we are asking is why did this error occur, and at what level was it sanctioned?" Newham said the police had used population estimates calculated by Statistics SA in 2001, which estimated that the population would be 50.6-million in 2011, instead of using data from the 2011 census, which showed there were 52.3-million people in South Africa.

False argument
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega's spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said the argument by the ISS was "not true at all".

"This false statement has also been interpreted by certain media houses to mean that crime statistics of the past two financial years cannot be trusted.

Such interpretation is equally untrue," Makgale said in a statement.

"The raw data, which is actual cases reported, is not based on population figures. Therefore one cannot conclude that the overall crime statistics should not be trusted." He said the argument by the ISS only served to confuse people.

"The 2011/12 crime ratios were based on a population estimate of 50.6-million.Stats SA released the 2011 Census results in October 2012. It showed the actual population of 2011 as 51.7-million," he said.

"Based on the formula used by Stats SA, the restated, estimated population for 2011 was shown to be 51.6-million. The argument is that we should have used these restated, estimated figures."

He said that would have required them to adjust the 2011/12 crime ratios and based on their approach this was not necessary.

Independent inquiry
The police would only apply the new population estimates, based on the 2011 Census results, from the 2012/13 financial period onwards, Makgale said.

The ISS said it had called for a formal independent inquiry into why the trends were miscalculated.

The miscalculation was more pronounced when it came to determining crime trends at a provincial level, it said.

Mnisi said the department rejected this call.

"The ISS is not the only crime analysing institute in the country – they are not the alpha and omega.

There is a pool of various analysts who continue to give sound analyses," Mnisi said.

"This call for a independent inquiry is not new … What we have seen of late from ISS are rhetorical statement which tend to be political in nature and we believe this is not the space they should be occupying." – Sapa