Police stats: damned if we do, damned if we don’t

The Department of Safety and Security says it is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea on crime statistics.
Spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi says releasing crime statistics now could be interpreted as an election ploy and if the figures are down they will be accused of helping the governing African National Congress trying to score political points.
The SA Press Association says he was responding to media reports about the lack of new crime statistics over the last year. The latest figures available were released last July and were up to the end of March 2008. The police were expected to release statistics in December but failed to do so.
“… Let’s de-politicise these particular stats because if we can release statistics now that will indicate that crime has gone down, the same people that are demanding the release of those particular statistics, they will cry foul and say that we are misusing government for political ends, because we’ll release statistics on the eve of elections that indicate that crime has gone down and therefore (score) political points for the ruling party,” he said on SAFM this morning.

Lesufi said whether they released them now or after the elections they were “damned”.

He said they were committed to releasing statistics every six months, but the current minister, Nathi Mthethwa, had not been in office for six months yet.

Mthethwa was appointed minister on 25 September, which was two days short of six months on Monday. “When he spends six months we release those particular statistics,” he said. That would be this Wednesday.

But they would definitely be released in September, Lesufi said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), meanwhile, says it is disappointed. It says Mthethwa told SABC television crime statistics “should only be released every two years”.
The party`s anti-crime spokesman, Dianne Kohler Barnard, says this amounts to Mthetwa going back on his predecessor`s commitment to release crime statistics twice annually “and it would be deeply irresponsible for the publishing of statistics to be delayed any further.”
Kohler Barnard says “covering up crime won`t make crime go away”, and the DA will write to the minister to reconsider his position.
The Sunday Independent yesterday quoted Johan Burger, a senior researcher for the crime, justice and politics programme at the Institute for Security Studies as saying that it was “very plausible that the latest crime stats might contain bad news” that the government was loathe to release before the elections.

The police`s crime statistician Assistant Commissioner Chris de Kok said he was unable to comment without Mthetwa`s consent.

Without up-to-date crime statistics, Burger said there was no way of gauging the full extent of the crime situation in the country. “We have no idea what is happening. We are completely in the dark,” he was quoted as saying.  

In a public appeal to the government, David Bruce, a senior researcher in the Criminal Justice Programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, made comparisons between other countries that struggled with high crime rates, such as Northern Ireland, which published six statistical reports a year, and the US, where the New York Police Department releases weekly statistics.

In 2007, former minister of safety and security Charles Nqakula released the national crime statistics three months ahead of schedule and made a commitment to release the national crime figures and trends every six months.

“We saw the response by the former minister of safety and security as a step in the right direction. We suspect that the mid-term changes in the department of safety and security – the change in ministers – resulted in this commitment not being followed,” said Siphiwe Nzimande, the chief executive officer of Business Against Crime South Africa (Bacsa).

Bacsa chairperson, Mark Lamberti and Nzimande submitted a proposal in a memo which was discussed with Mthethwa on November 3, 2008, in which they requested that the government release up-to-date crime statistics and more frequent reports, according to Nzimande.

Nzimande says the absence of crime statistics has a negative impact on business. “The failure to regularly release the national crime statistics denies business (big and small) the opportunity to properly assess opportunities for business developments, fixed investments and to develop confidence in the government”.

He adds releasing biannual national crime reports were insufficient.
“The position of Bacsa has been consistent in our call for the national crime statistics, together with the performance of the entire CJS (Criminal Justice System) to be ideally released frequently – at least quarterly,” he said.