Why crime rates are more useful than absolute numbers in tracking changes over time

The SAPS released their 2015/16 crime statistics on Friday. (David Harrison, M&G)

The SAPS released their 2015/16 crime statistics on Friday. (David Harrison, M&G)

The South African Police Service (SAPS) released their statistics on the number of crimes recorded in the 2015/16 reporting year, running from April 1 2015 to March 31 2016, on Friday in Parliament.

The SAPS released the crime statistics as absolute numbers – that being how many crimes were recorded in 2015/16. Africa Check has included the crime rates, calculated with Statistics South Africa’s mid-year population estimates. This refers to the number of crimes committed per 100 000 people in a country.

Crime rates are more useful than absolute numbers for comparing changes over time, as they allow you to make fair comparisons between different population sizes.

This is because – generally – the number of crimes committed will increase as a population grows. The crime rate allows us to see whether crimes have increased or decreased in relation to the size of the population.

Africa Check summarised crimes of public interest in this factsheet.

Contact crimes

1. Murder & attempted murder
Murder is the unlawful and intentional killing of another human being. In 2015/16, 18 673 murders were recorded, a 4.9% increase from 2014/15.

The murder rate increased from 32.9 in 2014/15 to 33.9 in 2015/16. This means there were nearly 34 murders recorded per 100 000 people in the country.

In 2015/16, a murder was recorded on average 51.2 times a day.

Attempted murder
In 2015/16, 18 127 attempted murders were recorded. The most attempted murders were recorded in Gauteng (4,574).

The attempted murder rate increased from 32.4 in 2014/15 to 33 in 2015/16.

In 2015/16, an attempted murder was recorded on average 49.7 times a day.

2. Sexual offences 
The sexual offences crime category contains the crimes detailed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act. Crimes that fall under this broad category include rape, compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children, among others.

As a result, when this crime category increases or decreases, it is unclear what crimes are driving the change.

In 2015/16, 51 895 sexual offences were recorded – an average of 142.2 per day. The sexual offences rate decreased from 99 in 2014/15 to 94.3 in 2015/16.

This decrease is not a positive sign, according to the Institute for Security Studies: “We are deeply concerned about the decrease of 3.2% in sexual offences. Research shows that this crime is unreported and a decrease suggests that fewer people are reporting sexual offences.”

Rape
South Africa’s legal definition of rape is very broad. The act states that “any person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape”.

This includes the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person with a genital organ, anal or vaginal penetration with any object and the penetration of a person’s mouth with the genital organs of an animal.

At the time of publishing, disaggregated rape statistics had not been released by the police.The graph below will be updated when the information becomes available.

3. Assault

Common assault
Common assault is the “unlawful and intentional direct and indirect application of force to the body of another person” or “threat of application of immediate personal violence to another”.

In 2015/16, 164 958 common assaults were recorded. The assault rate increased from 298.2 in 2014/15 to 299.9 in 2015/16 – meaning nearly 300 common assaults were recorded per 100 000 people in the country.

On average, 451.9 people were victims of common assault every day in South Africa in 2015/16.

The Institute for Security Studies cautions that these statistics may not reflect reality: “Police statistics for assault are notoriously unreliable because most victims don’t report these crimes to the police. Since the victim and perpetrator may be related (such as in a case of domestic violence) victims are often reluctant to disclose assault.”

Statistics South Africa’s 2014/15 Victim of Crime Survey reported that most assault victims knew their perpetrator. Nearly 30% of victims reported that their perpetrator was either their lover or spouse.

Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm

In 2015/16, 182 933 assaults with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm were recorded.

The rate of these type of assaults decreased from 337.2 in 2014/15 to 332.5 in 2015/16. This means that 332.5 assaults with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm were recorded per 100 000 people in the country.

In 2015/16, an assault of this kind was recorded on average 501.2 times a day.

4. Robbery

Common robbery
A robbery is committed when a person unlawfully and intentionally forcefully removes and appropriates property belonging to another person.

In 2015/16, 54 110 robberies were recorded, down by 1.5% from the year before.

The robbery rate decreased from 101.4 in 2014/15 to 98.4 in 2015/16. This means that 98.4 robberies were recorded per 100 000 people in the country.

On average 148.2 common robberies were recorded each day.

Robbery with aggravating circumstances
Robbery with aggravating circumstances occurs when a person uses a gun or weapon to unlawfully and intentionally forcefully remove property belonging to another person.

In 2015/16, 132 527 robberies with aggravating circumstances were recorded, an increase of 2.7% from the year before. The robbery with aggravating circumstances rate increased from 238.3 in 2014/15 to 240.9 in 2015/16.

On average 363.1 robberies with aggravating circumstances were recorded each day.

House robbery
House robberies occur when people are confronted in their homes and are victims of theft.

In 2015/16, there were 20 819 incidents of house robbery recorded, a 2.7% increase from the previous year. The house robbery rate increased marginally from 37.5 in 2014/15 to 37.8 in 2015/16.

In 2015/16, on average 57 houses were robbed each day.

5. Hijacking of cars
In 2015/16, the police recorded 14 602 carjacking incidents in South Africa, a 14.3% increase from the previous year. On average, 40 cars were hijacked per day.

50% of the crimes occurred in Gauteng.

Property crimes

6. House burglary
A house burglary is committed when a person “unlawfully and intentionally breaks into a building” with the intention to take something on the premises.

In 2015/16, 250 606 house burglaries were recorded, a decrease of 1.2% from the year before.

The house burglary rate decreased from 468.6 in 2014/15 to 455.5 in 2015/16.

On average 686.6 houses were burgled each day.

7. Theft of car or motorcycle 
In 2015/16, 53 809 cars or motorcycles were stolen, a decrease of 2.3%.

This means that 97.8 cars or motorcycles were stolen per 100,000 people in the country, down from 101.7 in 2014/15.

In 2015/16, on average 147.4 cars or motorcycles were stolen each day.

8. Drug-related offences
This crime category includes the crimes of use, possession of and dealing in drugs.

The police note that this crime category is “usually not reported to the police by members of the public. These crimes come to attention primarily as a result of police actions like roadblocks and searches”.

Growth in the number of crimes in this category is not always a bad thing: “An increase in these crimes may actually indicate that the police are more active, whereas a decrease may indicate reduced police activity.”

In 2015/16, there were 259 165 drug-related offences recorded by the police, a decrease of 2.9%. This means that 471.1 crimes were recorded for every 100 000 people in the country, down from 492.9 in 2014/15.

An average of 710 drug-related crimes was recorded each day in 2015/16. 

This article was originally published on Africa Check.

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