Official crime statistics and their interpretation determine the course of the daily work of the hundreds of thousands of employees of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Departments of Correctional Services and of Justice and Constitutional Development, to some extent the policymaking and functioning of many if not most other government departments, numerous non-governmental organisations, as well as the life and liberty of potentially every person in the country or wishing to enter it. They are public property.
Access to reliable and intelligible crime statistics is a policymaking imperative and a Constitutional right, and together with good analysis helps to build meaningful transparency, accountability, and participation in the collective efforts to address one of the problems that most concerns the inhabitants of South Africa. The Centre of Criminology is committed to contributing to the usefulness and accessibility of the official crime statistics.
However, the apparent precision of crime figures masks a far messier reality. A number of factors get in the way between an incident of crime and its reflection in official statistics. Victims and witnesses may be unwilling or unable to identify or accurately report a crime; the police officers on duty may be unwilling or unable to properly record it; the recorded data may be poorly stored and handled; laws may change over time; data publication may be incomplete or for whatever reason misleading; etc. Variation in these factors may skew results considerably, making it difficult to determine whether an observed difference in crime stats across jurisdictions or across time is the result of a real difference in crime, or rather a difference in social, political or institutional factors. For this reason, crime statistics are best supplemented by crime victimisation studies and other kinds of research. This work feeds into the Urban Security priority.
Our work in this area draws on external expertise, notably from analyst and consultant Dr Chris De Kock and from market research agency Vibrand Research <>.