Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Increases in Crime: Perception or Fact?
A rather secretive government policy on releasing crime statistics makes it perennially difficult to adjudge whether the recent public perception of increasing crime levels is based in perception or fact.

Perception is an interesting thing - a groundswell of public dialogue about an issue is difficult to stop. It feeds itself and raises media interest, which in turn swells the ranks that believe in that perception. Perception becomes 'fact' very quickly, and is incredibly difficult to refute.

Figures released by government are greeted with howls of disbelief and do little to dampen the flames. The South African Institute of Race Relations, a local NGO, recently released a report on crime in South Africa, which noted that:
  • The number of serious crimes reported to the South African Police Service declined by almost 18% between 2002/03 and 2005/06
  • Which followed an increase of over 30% between 1994 and 2003
  • Aggravated robberies, which had increased by 58% between 1994/95 and 2003/04, had peaked in 2004 before declining by 10% in the past two years
  • The murder rate, which peaked in 1995/96, had subsequently declined by 42%
All of which sounds positive, so where does the truth lie. Unfortunately, without statistics that we can actively trust and uphold, perception rules the day. Stories abound and personal anecdotes travel like wildfire.

It's time government opened its doors to its constituents. The only way to alter perception is to arm positive citizens with facts to challenge it.