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Violent house robberies on the rise

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More households have been attacked by criminals in the past year than the one before it, up 5.2% to 20,281. This is according to crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) at the end of September for the period April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015. They also show that non-violent, residential burglaries have decreased by 2.3% to 253,716.

The first subcategory falls within aggravated robberies which, as a total, rose 8.5%, from 118,963 cases in 2013/2014 to 129,045 in 2014/2015.

These are just some of the crime statistics to be found in the Institute of Security Studies’ (ISS) Factsheets. What they indicate are slight decreases in non-violent crimes, but, worryingly, increases in violent crime.

Commenting on the stats for HomeTimes, Gareth Newham, head of the ISS Governance, Crime and Justice division, says “aggravated robbery” is one of the most serious violent crime categories. “An aggravated robbery occurs when armed individuals or groups threaten violence in order to steal belongings. The increase in this crime is worrying as this crime type has risen by 28% over the past three years. In 2014/15 there were 129,045 armed robberies reported to the police, which is on average 355 every day. To put it into perspective, compared with three years ago, there are now 77 more armed robberies each day on average.

“Most aggravated robberies take place on the streets or in public places. However, one of the subcategories of aggravated robbery is residential robbery, where armed criminals hold up people in their homes,” he says. “In 2014/15, there were 20,281 such crimes reported to the police, or 55 each day on average. This is 21% higher than the number reported to the police three years previously. “Ensuring that people are safe on the streets and in their homes has to be the first and main priority of the SAPS and if it is failing in this regards, questions have to be asked about how the organisation is using the vast resources as its disposal.”

In an article published by ISS Today on September 29, Newham argued that South Africa lacks clear strategies to reduce serious violent crime. Moreover it is a burden that SAPS can’t shoulder alone.

Responding to SAPS’s annual release of its crime statistics on that day, Newham said South Africa had seen a third successive year of increases in the most serious categories of violent and organised crime, yet the country lacked clear strategies to reverse this dangerous trend.

Armed robberies are a key indicator of police effectiveness because they are typically committed by a relatively small number of repeat offenders who are usually organised, he said. This means that a clear robbery reduction strategy that is intelligence-led and backed up by specialised teams of detectives will lead to the identification, arrest and successful prosecutions of increasing numbers of armed robbers and the buyers of stolen goods. That robberies have increased raises questions about the extent to which police resources are being effectively used.

“South Africans should not have to suffer yet another year in which violent robberies are increasing on their streets and in their homes and places of work. It simply isn’t necessary as this is a crime that the police have the personnel, expertise and resources to reduce. With a budget of around R80bn, some of the best technology in the world, and more than 194,000 personnel, SAPS should be better able to reduce crimes such as robbery.

Police should share information and collaborate more

“Many police officers are doing their best in the fight against crime, and they are to be congratulated,” he says. “But the police alone can’t reduce all forms of crime and violence, particularly many murders, assaults and rape. We therefore welcome the call by the Minister of Police to develop partnerships as recommended by the National Development Plan to reduce violence. This will require that SAPS works more strategically and transparently with other government departments, business and civil society.

“Until today, the most recent figures on crime were one and a half years out of date. The figures released [in September] are already six months out of date so do not give an accurate picture of current crime and violence levels facing people in their communities,” Newham stresses.

Without detailed and updated crime information being shared regularly, he warns, crime fighting efforts will not benefit from the wealth of expertise available in government, the private sector and civil society. “We need to know what is going on at the current time if we are able to properly plan and implement crime reduction strategies, and assess their effectiveness.

“The annual crime statistics are necessary but not adequate for an accurate understanding of crime. This is because there has been a decrease in the number of victims who are willing to report crimes to the police.”

Fewer than half of victims report their experiences to the police for most categories of crime, he points out. Lower assault numbers in the statistics don’t necessarily indicate fewer assaults. The most recent National Victims of Crime Survey (NCVS) showed a 7% drop in assault victims reporting to the police, from 52.6% in 2011, to 45.6% in 2013.

When it comes to rape, research has found that as few as one in 13 rapes are reported to police. This means police rape figures are not at all accurate.

A reported decrease in sexual assault is not good news for women, because rather than showing there are fewer rapes, it indicates growing distrust in the police. The NVCS shows that the proportion of sexual assault victims who report to the police decreased by a notable 21% between 2011 and 2014.

“The police cannot be held responsible for dealing with all crime, especially not most murders, rape, child abuse and assault. These crimes often start intergenerational cycles of violence and addressing them requires a different approach. Better data and stronger partnerships are also needed between government, civil society institutions that do research and analysis, and those that implement social programmes, so that data can be used effectively to identify areas of need,” Newham says.

Implement the National Development Plan recommendations

“The National Planning Commission has highlighted the ‘serial crises of top management’ as a fundamental challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure improvements in policing.

“This has to be a priority if the SAPS is to be transformed into a highly professional organisation that can build trust among all people in South Africa. This requires that only the most skilled, experienced and honest men and women are appointed to senior leadership positions.

“We therefore look forward to the full implementation of the National Development Plan’s recommendations that the SAPS National and Deputy Commissioners are appointed on the advice of an independent selection panel following a transparent and competitive recruitment process. Moreover, all senior police managers need to be assessed for their skills, experience and integrity to ensure that only the best possible people lead the SAPS,” Newham says.

Other crime stats

  • Businesses attacked, another subcategory of aggravated robberies, were also up by 3.2% to 19,170 incidents.
  • “Common robberies”, which include vehicle smash and grabs and muggings, increased by 2.7% to 54,927 incidents in 2014/2015.
  • Also on the rise are vehicle hijackings, up 14.2% to 12,773 incidents; and truck hijackings up 29.1% to 1,279 incidents.
  • Cash-in-transit heists decreased from 145 to 119 incidents in 2014/2015.
  • Theft out of or from vehicles was up 1.1% to 145,358 incidents, perpetrated when the owners were not present and are categorised under property crimes or non-violent crimes.
  • Murder in South Africa increased by 4.6% from 17,023 to 17,805 cases, that is 33 per 100,000 – more than five times higher than the 2013 global average of 6.2 murders per 100,000.



Alison Goldberg is the former property editor of Business Day (1985) and the Financial Mail (1991-99). In 1995 she won the Sanlam Financial Journalist of the Year Award. She has edited such titles as National Constructor and The Miner in Australia and has freelanced for The Star, The South African Jewish Report and The Jerusalem Post.

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