PUBLIC HAS RIGHT TO STATISTICS: BOBBY STEVENSON

‘The refusal of the SAPS to make crime statistics available on a more regular basis flies in the face of transparency and an open society’

THE hype around the annual release of the crime statistics earlier this month has died down. The SAPS can once more retreat behind a veil of secrecy and refuse to give out figures till next year, unless, of course, it suits their particular spin at the time.

The moratorium on the release of crime statistics was introduced in 2000 because of the unreliable reporting and recording methods of statistics by the police. But the current rationale for the moratorium is invalid.

Police have argued that if stats were released for a period shorter than a year, they would be unsuitable for establishing reliable crime tendencies.

Crime statistics are now released once a year in September where they are between six and 18 months out of date.

The refusal of the SAPS to make crime statistics available on a more regular basis flies in the face of transparency and an open society.

It is, in my opinion, unconstitutional.

But it is more than that – it is a violation of the public’s right to know.

It is time the public held the SAPS more accountable and demanded to know what is happening in their communities. Surely the public has a right to be informed on a regular basis of crime in their city but more particularly, in their immediate neighbourhood?

After all, if there are a spate of burglaries or house robberies or a big increase in hijackings, then being aware of these facts helps one to take more adequate steps to protect oneself.

Communities that are hard hit by crime don’t need to wait up to 18 months to find out what is happening.

They want to know now where the dangerous spots are.

This is particularly so with regard to people who rely on public transport and have to walk long distances.

People who want to invest their life savings or who are bonding themselves to buy a house want to know what the crime situation in their neighbourhood is today.

Foreign investors seeking to invest in our country want to know the truth about what is happening.

The news, of course, can also be very good. If crime has decreased in a particular community, one should be able to get the facts and make use of them.

It can also greatly benefit the marketing of a city or province when it comes to investment and tourism.

People are naturally attracted to areas where their safety is secure.

It is somewhat ironic that the press has a greater access to current information from the SAPS than members of parliament whose job is to oversee them.

Reporters regularly call up the media liaison officials of the SAPS for information and the crime report.

Members of parliament and provincial legislatures who are constitutionally empowered to oversee the SAPS cannot ask questions on current statistics.

This begs the question: how can members of provincial legislatures, who have a constitutional duty to monitor the effectiveness of the SAPS, do so without accurate information?

In short, you cannot tell if the SAPS are doing their job properly nor can you oversee the effectiveness of their crime strategies.

You also cannot tell whether the various campaigns of the provincial department for safety and liaison are having any impact at the time.

The end result of this is that both the SAPS and the Department of Safety and Liaison in our province cannot be properly measured and are therefore less accountable to the public representatives who are there to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being well spent in reducing the high crime rate in our communities.

Community police forums cannot function properly if they are kept in the dark. How can community police forums be equal partners with the SAPS if they don’t have access to the same level of information?

The DA believes members of the public should be entitled to real-time crime statistics. We would make these available via the internet and at local stations.

The DA believes the more informed communities are, the more they are empowered to fight crime.

All of us whose freedom is threatened by crime deserve to know the truth. There is no logical rationale for the moratorium on the regular release of crime statistics.

By keeping the public in the dark it allows rumour mongering to flourish and studies have shown it decreases the legitimacy of the SAPS. Furthermore, it is not a successful strategy to manage public fear.

The only conclusion one can draw is that the government has a deliberate strategy to keep the regular crime facts hidden from the public because they are embarrassed by the high levels of crime in this country.

My party is committed to an open opportunity society for all. We believe that by telling the truth about crime and being open with communities, new ideas and initiatives will emerge which in turn will create better opportunities for all of us who want a safer society.