The crux of the crime sta­tis­tics

The down­play­ing of Op­er­a­tion Fiela is pos­si­bly be­cause this mega op­er­a­tion did not re­sult in re­duc­tions in pri­or­ity of­fences as ex­pected, writes Guy Lamb

The Star Late Edition - - INSIDE - Guy Lamb is the di­rec­tor of the Safety and Vi­o­lence Ini­tia­tive at UCT

ON FRI­DAY, the min­is­ter of police re­leased the 2015/16 SAPS crime data in Par­lia­ment, which cov­ered the pe­riod April 1 last year to March 31 this year.

One of the head­line mes­sages was that the to­tal num­ber of re­ported mur­ders and at­tempted mur­ders had in­creased by 4.9 per­cent and 3.4 per­cent re­spec­tively, com­pared to 2014/15.

As pub­li­cised by the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, the na­tional mur­der rate (per 100 000) also in­creased by just over 3 per­cent. Both the to­tal num­bers of re­ported rob­beries at res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties and rob­beries with ag­gra­vat­ing cir­cum­stances rose by close to 3 per­cent.

Wor­ry­ingly, the to­tal num­ber of car hi­jack­ings in­creased by 14.3 per­cent.

So does this mean that South Africa has be­come a more danger­ous place? The short an­swer is: it de­pends on where you live and the ar­eas through which you travel on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Na­tional and provin­cial level crime data can be mis­lead­ing, as there is a highly dis­pro­por­tional distri­bu­tion of vi­o­lent crime in South Africa. Such crime does man­i­fest within most polic­ing precincts, but over the past two decades, it has been in­tensely con­cen- trated in about 15 per­cent of all polic­ing precincts.

The high crime ar­eas tend to be densely pop­u­lated, in­fras­truc­turally marginalis­ed and char­ac­terised by el­e­vated lev­els of poverty, such as large ur­ban town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

For ex­am­ple, the risk of be­ing a vic­tim of vi­o­lent crime in Camps Bay is con­sid­er­ably lower than in Nyanga.

The in­crease in vi­o­lent crime came as no sur­prise as the SAPS had their hands full dur­ing the 2015/16 re­port­ing pe­riod.

That is, apart from their nor­mal polic­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the SAPS had to re­spond to in­tense protest ac­tion, from the FeesMustFa­ll up­ris­ings on univer­sity cam­puses, to the nu­mer­ous in­ci­dents of col­lec­tive vi­o­lence in the build-up to lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions.

In fact, the to­tal num­ber of un­rest cases rose from 2 289 in 2014/15 to 3 542 in­ci­dents in 2015/16, and has al­most dou­bled since 2012/13. To make mat­ters worse, the police had also been rocked by a se­ries of lead­er­ship crises in which two SAPS provin­cial com­mis­sion­ers and the na­tional police com­mis­sioner (Riah Phiyega) was sus­pended.

Both the min­is­ter and the SAPS spokes­men present in Par­lia­ment, how­ever, sug­gested the in­creases in vi­o­lent crime were mostly re­lated to dy­nam­ics within so­ci­ety, and were there­fore largely out of bounds to the work of the police.

How­ever, the SAPS went to great lengths to sketch out their new fight-back strat­egy, which has been termed “Backto-Ba­sics”. Ac­cord­ing to the SAPS, this strat­egy will seek to rein­vig­o­rate ef­forts to sys­tem­at­i­cally con­tain and re­duce crime through im­proved dis­ci­pline, ded­i­ca­tion and vis­i­bil­ity.

More men and women in blue will be seen on the streets; bet­ter “part­ner­ships” with com­mu­nity struc­tures will be built; and en­hanced in­tel­li­gence-led op­er­a­tions will be the or­der of the day. None­the­less, this strat­egy is silent on how the so­ci­etal driv­ers of crime will be ad­dressed.

Cu­ri­ously, Op­er­a­tion Fiela-Re­claim, which has been one of the SAPS’s flag­ship in­ter­ven­tions since April last year, barely re­ceived a men­tion.

This na­tional in­tel­li­gence-led op­er­a­tion was launched in re­sponse to largescale out­breaks of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in KwaZulu-Natal and Gaut­eng last year. How­ever, it had more grandiose plans.

Ac­cord­ing to the cabi­net-level In­ter-Min­is­te­rial Com­mit­tee on Mi­gra­tion, the in­ten­tion of this op­er­a­tion was to tar­get the places “known to be fre­quented by crim­i­nals to rid our coun­try of il­le­gal weapons, drug dens, pros­ti­tu­tion rings and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties”.

The op­er­a­tional blue­print for Op­er­a­tion Fiela-Re­claim pub­lished last year was omi­nously ti­tled the “Multi-Dis­ci­plinary In­te­grated Na­tional Ac­tion Plan to Re­assert the Au­thor­ity of the State”. This doc­u­ment sug­gested there was a deep sense of disquiet within the gov­ern­ment’s se­cu­rity clus­ter, namely the per­cep­tion that the au­thor­ity of the state had been ex­ten­sively eroded in high­crime com­mu­ni­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to this plan, the se­cu­rity forces would “dom­i­nate and sta­bilise” fo­cal ar­eas by pur­su­ing high vis­i­bil­ity polic­ing ac­tions; ar­rest­ing “wanted” per­sons; fast-track­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions; and adopt­ing a zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach to lesser forms of crim­i­nal­ity, such as traf­fic of­fences, op­er­at­ing il­le­gal busi­nesses, sell­ing coun­ter­feit goods, il­le­gal min­ing, drink­ing in pub­lic and be­ing in South Africa il­le­gally.

Within high-crime ar­eas large num­bers of road­blocks were erected, with the se­cu­rity forces also hon­ing in on the tra­di­tional mi­cro-spa­ces of dis­or­der and law break­ing, such as hos­tels, aban­doned in­ner-city build­ings, tav­erns, she­beens and taxi ranks.

For ex­am­ple, in April last year, se­cu­rity force per­son­nel stormed the Madala hos­tel in Alexan­dra and the Wolhuter Road hos­tel in Jeppestown.

Sim­i­larly, in Oc­to­ber last year, the no­to­ri­ous Gle­be­lands hos­tel in uMlazi (KwaZulu-Natal) was flooded with se­cu­rity force per­son­nel.

In Ma­nen­berg, dur­ing an in­tense gang turf-war (May 2015), about 300 se­cu­rity force mem­bers were de­ployed into the area and then raided sus­pected drug dens and gang­ster hide­outs.

The down­play­ing of Op­er­a­tion Fiela is pos­si­bly be­cause this mega op­er­a­tion did not re­sult in re­duc­tions in pri­or­ity crimes as ex­pected. Fur­ther­more, its meth­ods and ac­com­plish­ments have been crit­i­cised by civil so­ci­ety in the past in that they were highly mil­i­taris­tic, and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the ar­rests se­cured as a re­sult of the op­er­a­tion were un­doc­u­mented mi­grants.

None­the­less, this does not mean Op­er­a­tional Fiela is a thing of the past. The SAPS’s “Back-to-Ba­sics” strat­egy clearly im­plies ma­jor police op­er­a­tions will con­tinue to be a key tac­tic.

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