CONVERSATIONS ON CRIME: street/public robbery – the litmus test of visible policing in South Africa

Deal with street/public robbery to reduce murder and attempted murder in South Africa.

There is this preconceived idea by the Minister of Police and the management of the South African Police Service (SAPS) that the high levels of murder and attempted murder in South Africa are as a consequence mainly of factors, like alcohol abuse. This presentation will show that street/public robbery has a significant impact on levels of murder and attempted murder as well as other crimes in the country. In recent years, no figures on the number of street/public robberies have been released or even mentioned. This crime is probably the one that has the greatest impact on specifically poor people in South Africa. By dealing with street/public robbery will enable the country to begin to address many of the other associated crimes, such as murder, attempted murder, assault and even rape.

Dr de Kock’s recipe for dealing with crime and more specifically street/public robbery, is to ensure that there is a constant and high level of visible policing based on intelligence generated by operational analysis of dockets and the Crime Administration System (CAS). This daily operational analysis at station level ensures focused visible policing. It provide details like where does the specific crime occur (hotspots), when does it occur (peak times), and why does it occur at that spot at that time (environmental analysis). The Minister, management of the SAPS and the South African government, need to acknowledge the levels of street/public robbery and release data on this crime, as citizens have a right to know.

There is a need to have conversations on this crime so that people that are impacted the most by street/public robbery can be protected against it. It is the responsibility of the state as well as the employers in this country to protect workers as they travel from their homes to their places of work when using public transport. This is the first of a series of webinars on having Conversations on Crime, as we believe that citizens have a right to know what is going on in their police stations so that they can engage with the relevant authorities to improve the situation. By providing crime statistics in a web mapping viewer that is available to all citizens in the country, provides “information for action” on crime.

Workers and the poor most impacted by street/public robbery

When the crime statistics are released on a quarterly and annual basis there is media coverage on the topic for a short while. The data is presented in report/tabular format at a fairly aggregated level and this information is difficult for people to use. A longer term conversation on crime is required, focusing specifically on what can be done and implementing the principles of social accountability. Social accountability is when citizens, the government and SAPS work together to address the high levels of crime in South Africa. This can only be done with access to detailed information as provided on the web mapping viewer.

Street/public robbery forms part of the aggravated robbery crime category. For the last 6 years, the SAPS released statistics and data on six of the aggravated robbery subcategories (residential and business robbery, carjacking and truck jacking, bank robbery and cash in transit robbery) without even mentioning street/public robbery, which makes up approximately 57% of aggravated robbery. It occurs mainly in public areas, such as on the streets, in parks and open spaces, but can also occur in bank halls, churches, sports facilities and in restaurants. This crime predominantly impacts the workers traveling between their home and place of work using the public transport system. One of the most common forms of this crime is the theft of mobile phones from people.

The detailed information, especially around murders and attempted murders, that SAPS released over the last couple of years have convinced the authors that there is a strong relationship between street/public robbery and crimes like murder and attempted murder. So, for example 55% and 5.6% of murders occurred in public places and at transport nodes respectively, during the first quarter of 2021. Although 39% of murders were probably as a result of arguments, 17.7% were as a result of robberies and 15.4% as a result of vigilante/mob justice.

In 60% of the dockets analysed and where a person was murdered, these mostly occurred in public spaces and in all probability occurred during a street/public robberies. From evidence presented to the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into policing in 2013 it was clear that there is a strong relationship between street/public robbery, murder and vigilantism. In the past two week there were several examples in Mpumalanga and Gauteng where vigilante action was taken against “suspects”,  for example in Zandspruit, to the north west of Johannesburg.  An analysis of cases involving attempted murder has shown that in many instances this is a consequence of street/public robbery. One must then conclude that by bringing about a reduction in street/public robbery will contribute to a reduction of the high levels of murder, attempted murder and other crimes in South Africa.

Information & visible policing key to reducing street/public robbery

In 2019/2020 there were 82 710 cases of street/public robbery. According to Stats SA this equates to only 42% of the reported street/public robberies in the country. Between 2003-2012 the number of street/public robberies declined from just over 105 000 to over 57 000 cases. This was during the time of Commissioner’s Selebi and Cele (now the Minister of Police). They implemented key initiatives that involved intelligence based visible policing, especially during the World Cup years of 2009-2011. From 2012 – 2020 there has been an increase in street/public robbery from just over 60 000 to over 82 000 cases. In other words, our fight against this crime has gone backwards and this is attributed to a lack of intelligence led, visible policing.

When looking at the top 30 police stations in South Africa with the highest number of street/public robberies, it can be seen that Johannesburg Central and Hillbrow (Gauteng),  Nyanga/ Khayelitsha (Western Cape) and Durban Central (KwaZulu-Natal) are the worst of when it comes to this crime. Clearly stations in Central Business Districts (CBD) and large township, which form the main public transport hubs for thousands of workers, is primarily the areas where this crime occurs. Sandton police station also forms part of the top 30 police stations, which often has a significant impact on tourists and international businessmen visiting South Africa. This reflects the impact that street/public robbery can have on people other than those traveling through public places in our country.

In providing a web mapping viewer, it allows access to crime statistics at a police station level for the latest year for anyone that is interested. The viewer allows the mapping of street/public robbery as well as any of the other reported crimes. The crime statistics can be viewed at a national, provincial or municipal level for all police stations falling into these administrative areas. From the analysis of the data it is clear that it is the major metropolitan, urban and townships that are impacted the most by this crime. For example, Gauteng had 29 593, Western Cape had 17 354 and KwaZulu-Natal had 12 058 cases of street/public robbery.

Analysis of information & visible policing key to reducing street/public robbery

The advantage of this web mapping viewer is that it provides access to easy to use colour maps, charts and tables of all the crime types reported in South Africa at a police station level. Generally, crime statistics are made available in static tabular or report formats. The web mapping viewer allows sophisticated analysis of the crime statistics, which includes filtering of police stations falling into the different categories of a particular crime. It also allows further analysis of crime types at various spatial levels. For example, it shows that police stations that have high levels of street/public robbery also have high levels of other crimes.

Where there are high levels of street/public robbery there is a 96% association with police station that also have high levels of carjacking and truck jacking (96%). Other factors such as the size and characteristic of the population as well as environmental factors could be incorporated to provide further understanding of why these crimes occur in a particular police station. There is also a strong association between police stations where there are high levels of common assault and residential robbery (92%); theft of motor vehicles (95% ); shoplifting and common robbery (93%). The association between police station that have high levels of street/public robbery with attempted murder and murder is also high at 91% and 87%, respectively.

Anybody using the web mapping viewer can also search for their police station or police stations falling into the different administrative areas of South Africa. Having identified a particular police station of interest, all the reported numbers associated with the different crime types can be viewed. This data at a police station level is invaluable for the conducting of research, development of policy and enabling citizens to engage with the Community Police Forums (CPF), SAPS and the government. The web mapping technology allows the priority police stations to be identified in relation to different crime types and other factors. Having access to this information will allow all South Africans to contribute towards the fight against crime in our country.

Watch the full webinar video:

To be able to view and analyse the latest crime statistics at a police station, visit our SA Crime Profiles viewer:

About the Authors

Dr Chris de Kock is the former head of the Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) of the South African Police Service (SAPS). He holds a PhD in Sociology and has extensive experience as a researcher and analyst in crime and violence in South Africa. He is also a consultant to police services in other Southern African countries. As an associate of AfricaScope he works with us in the analysis of crime statistics and in the developing of Crime Profile web mapping portal. Recent projects we have collaborated on is the Survey on Citizen Perceptions of safety in high crime areas in Gauteng province.

Craig Schwabe is a director at AfricaScope and a geospatial specialist. For close to two decades he has been involved in the development of geospatial data for South Africa and other African countries. He was involved in the first project to map the police station boundaries in South Africa and integrate the crime statistics. His passion is looking at the provision of geospatial data, especially crime statistics to the citizens and businesses in the country. Craig has undertaken several projects looking at the analysis of crime statistics and the publishing of reports and papers.

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