South Africans’ confidence in the police continues to wane, with the proportion of people and households reporting crimes continuing to decline. 

This much is evident from Stats SA’s latest Victims of Crime (VoC) Survey for 2020.  Even in the case of serious violent crimes, which are harder to ignore, there was a decline in reporting.   

According to the VoC report, the proportion of households that reported some or all incidents of home robbery to the police declined from 59,9% in 2018/19 to 54,5% in 2019/20. 

Over the same period, reporting of assaults declined from 69% to 60%; reports of motor vehicle theft declined from 86,3% to 78,7%; and the proportion of victims reporting hijacking declined from 85% to 78%. 

The reporting of sexual offences saw a 10 percentage point decline, from 69% to 59,9%.

There was also a dramatic decline in the proportion of victims reporting consumer fraud to the police – a fall of more than 20%, from 47% to 26%. 

Murder was the only crime category in which every incident was reported to the police. 

Yet, as these statistics show, other serious violent crime categories such as assault and sexual offences reveal declines in the number of reported cases. 

What do these declines mean?

Satisfaction

It likely points to a decline in the public’s satisfaction with the performance of the South African Police Service. 

The Coligny murder trial is a high-profile example of the ineptitude of some of the country’s police officers. 

Late last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) acquitted two farm workers who had been found guilty of the murder of teenager Matlhomola Mosweu, who had allegedly stolen sunflowers. The men, Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte, said that, after apprehending him, they were transporting the 15-year-old Mosweu on the back of their bakkie to the police station, when the boy jumped from the bakkie and died as a result. The State alleged that the two men threw the deceased from the back of the moving bakkie.  However, all three judges from the SCA agreed that the standard of proof for a criminal trial had not been met, and that the police displayed incompetence during the investigation.

On this, Pierre de Vos, the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance, agreed and said that the police did not investigate the matter properly. De Vos added that ‘(the) first 24 hours of the police investigation is pivotal. They didn’t do anything for the first three or four days until there were protests from the community’.

(The case has been thoroughly examined here, here and here by Daily Friend writer Gabriel Crouse [in the third instance, with writer Rian Malan and Politicsweb James Myburgh], who has highlighted grave deficiencies in the Coligny investigation and trial, and also in the reasoning advanced by De Vos himself.)

Increasingly doubtful

The handling of the Coligny case, and of many other criminal investigations, has made South Africans increasingly doubtful of the police force’s ability to effectively combat crime. 

This has the effect of making them reluctant to report crimes to the police, and to rely instead on the country’s burgeoning private security industry. For those who can’t afford private security, mob justice or vigilantism has become increasingly popular. 

In order for the police to regain the trust of the public, some urgent reforms are needed. 

These include:

  • Ensuring that senior appointments in the police force are based on merit and not empowerment policies or party political loyalty;
  • Providing more resources to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) so that the organisation is able to properly investigate corruption and brutality by the police;
  • Making it possible for police station commanders to be elected during local government elections. This will help ensure that police leaders are more accountable to the communities they are meant to serve; and
  • Implementing high-level training programmes to ensure that all police officers and new recruits are equipped with the skills needed to fight crime. 

The fact that many households and individuals are not reporting crimes to the police means that the extent of the country’s crime problem may be much larger than official SAPS figures show.

It is therefore vital to ensure that the country’s security forces are equipped with the resources, skills and proper leadership to enable them to effectively deal with what has become one of the highest crime rates in the world. Implementing these reforms will go a long way towards achieving this goal.

  • See the news report, below: Storming of police station reflects frustration over inept policing – IRR

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