/ 1 October 2019

​Data-driven safety plan aims for rapid violent crime prevention in the Western Cape

One of the key criticisms of SAPS data is the fact that it’s not comprehensive enough.



Six out of the top ten police stations which recorded the most murders over the last 12 months are in the Western Cape. The province’s premier, Alan Winde, also reminded Parliament two weeks ago that the murder ratio in the province is 60 for every 100 000 people. This is despite the army being deployed earlier this year to help quell gang violence in the Cape Flats.

Winde mentioned this murder ratio as part of his talking about a new, data-driven, safety plan in the province. This, he said, will provide local law enforcement with state-of-the-art intelligence, which is needed for rapid crime intervention and long-term prevention.

The premier, in the job since May, told Parliament : “Today, I am announcing the most comprehensive and expensive safety plan the province has ever seen. This safety plan includes both a law enforcement and a violence prevention component. Secondly we will focus on the prevention and reduction of violence.”

To get a better sense of how this will work, the Mail & Guardian talked to Winde.

It starts, he says, on a Monday morning, when he is handed the full meta data of every single person who was murdered in the province over the weekend. For the weekend of September 20, for example, this included 31 murder admissions in the province, of which 19 were gunshots, eight were stabbings and four were classified as “other”.

“The police only give us this data every six months or a year later. We know it the next day,” Winde says, referring to the limitations of the annual crime statistics that are released by the South African Police Service [SAPS]. “If you want to manage something and you only measure it every six months or every year, you can’t manage it. We have to flip that around.”

The province’s mortality surveillance programme — which compiles daily forensics reports from hospital morgues — enables the government to provide details otherwise not known to the police service. As opposed to national annual crime statistics released by the SAPS, it includes daily updates on murders and includes age categories, genders of the victims, the date of admission, and the area where the admission was made.

Anine Kriegler, a PhD candidate and researcher at the centre of criminology at the University of Cape Town, has been focusing on crime statistics in South Africa. She says that murder, as opposed to other crimes, is much easier to quantify. “There’s a body [when there’s been a murder], which means that even if the police don’t find out about it, it will go to a state mortuary which gets recorded in their death register.”

This mortality surveillance programme is a key component of the premier’s safety plan. The R1-billion-a-year fund also includes money to train and deploy 3 000 new law enforcement officers, as well as 150 investigators. Additionally, each minister in the province will have a safety priority and safety budget.

Winde says that the data allow for pinpointed interventions. “When you deploy your forces, we know that they must be deployed on weekends and not during the week for instance. They must be deployed at 11:00 at night in this area and at 02:00 in the morning at that area.”

Kriegler says that it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Western Cape decided to collect its own data because of the drawbacks in relying solely on SAPS data.

One of the key criticisms of SAPS data is the fact that it’s not comprehensive enough. Statistics South Africa’s Victims of Crime Survey of 2017/18 found that most crimes in the country are massively underreported. Only half of assault cases, for example, get reported to local police stations. Similarly, half of all burglaries go unreported.

Victims of Crime Survey, 2017/18 by Mail and Guardian on Scribd

Kriegler explains that the annual crime statistics provide a limited, if not skewed, perspective of those most affected by crime in the country. “Certain kinds of victims in certain kinds of areas are much more likely to report [crimes to local police stations] than others. White people, wealthy people and people with insurance are much more likely to report crimes,” she says.

“You can’t compare [most] crime statistics between police stations because just about every single crime that happens in Rondebosch will make it into the stats whereas only a tiny proportion of those happening in Khayelitsha get recorded.”

Besides daily crime updates and interventions, Winde’s plan also includes a long-term solution that he refers to as “behavioural change”. By collating educational data, like school marks versus days absent, the Western Cape department of education can identify red flags and opportunities to intervene accordingly.

“You can say things like if a boy is skipping school this often, showing this kind of disruption in class and is showing these grades, that’s when you need to intervene. Because if you don’t intervene then in a primary school space, when that young boy gets to high school, he is probably going to be rejected from the system and go straight to the gangs.”

Other technologies that are included in the Western Cape government’s safety plan include sharing information gathered from other entities with law enforcement. This includes number plate camera recognition systems currently used for traffic management, as well as gunshot detection system Shotspotter — which has been rolled out by the City of Cape Town.

Winde says the goal is for the Western Cape government to be able to measure the impact of law enforcement interventions. He adds that this is a key requirement for the effectiveness of South African National Defence Force’s deployment in the Cape Flats.

“When I requested the extra term of the army to remain at least until the end of the year, I also said that I need to see much more strategic management with a focus on what you want to achieve in which area, by when and how do you measure it and are you deploying with that strategy and measurements in place. At the moment it doesn’t look like it.”

Vishnu Naidoo, the spokesperson for the national commissioner, says that SAPS welcomes provincial and local interventions to combat crime. “This initiative in the Western Cape talks to the SAPS turn around vision in that it forms part of the SAPS Multidisciplinary Integrated Approach to addressing crime.”

Winde, however, says that — even though he has spoken to the national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole — he is yet to receive a response about his plan from Police Minister Bheki Cele. “As the president said, we need to work together on this. I’m a very willing partner. But also, when I get no response, I’m just going to do it anyway.”

Jacques Coetzee is an Adamela data fellow, a position funded by the Indigo Trust.