Conventional wisdom dictates that crime prevalence is inextricably linked to socio-economic factors, in particular, unemployment. The expanded definition of unemployment was 35.6 percent at the end of last year according to Stats SA and has been modulating at that range for as long as memory serves, while the murder rate increased 4.9 percent to 18,673 for the 2015/16 financial year according to the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The implication is that crime cannot be reduced in a sustainable way unless there are economic opportunities available to absorb labour force entrants. Furthermore, the recent credit rating downgrade would suggest that a resulting softening of economic activity will also lead to heightened financially motivated crimes. It can be argued that if crime and economic fundamentals form a bi-causal relationship, then a reduction in crime should lead to a virtuous cycle of economic growth and job creation. The only way to achieve this is through tactical crime-fighting strategies - it is not about brute force, but rather targeted activities informed by data and insights.
However, simplistic as it may seem, the most important crime deterrent remains information; sifting between perception and reality is critical. Educating yourself on particular risks and how to mitigate against them is the very first step. One positive development is the improved access to a variety of crime statistics. The SAPS now updates their crime statistics on a quarterly basis. For the period April 2016 to December 2016, there has been a reduction in the aggregate contact and related crimes as well as property related crimes compared to the previous corresponding period. However, the murder rate, considered a reliable indicator of violent crime trends, moved sideways and dipped by only 0.1 percent, whereas robbery with aggravating circumstances increased by 6 percent.
A second useful data set is the Victims of Crime Survey published by Stats SA. The April 2015 to March 2016 Survey shows that 42 percent of households believe that violent crime has increased in their neighbourhoods over the past three years, opposed to the 28 percent who believe it has declined and the 30 percent who noted no change. Similarly, 46 percent of households believe property crime has increased, with burglary being the most feared crime and was indeed the crime most households have been exposed to.
Understanding the nuances is part of becoming better informed and better prepared to combat crime risks. Bryte Insurance's newly released Crime Tracker shows that hijacking and theft by force from businesses decreased by an average of around 5 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, with promising signs that this trend may continue. The experience of households in this regard is even more encouraging; results showed an estimated 13 percent annual contraction in hijackings and theft by force against individuals.
Internal research and analysis over the years into crime trends shows that South African criminals are more connected and sophisticated than ever before. Often, when it comes to in-transit robberies and hijackings, perpetrators have exact intelligence on what is being transported, where and when. Disposing of goods seems equally seamless as experience shows that criminals establish tail-end networks to sell-off stolen goods quickly. The good news is that the growing corpus of data and intelligence on the tactics used by criminals are helping police, community policing forums, relevant associations and private sector players such as insurance providers, fight crime.
It would be naïve to pretend that crime is not a big social problem in South Africa; of course, it is.
The second element is to work smart, be proactive and essentially, be safe, rather than take an "it won't happen to me" approach. It would be naïve to pretend that crime is not a big social problem in South Africa; of course, it is. It can be proposed that if we are able to adequately address crime challenges we will also reduce the resulting cost on the economy; positively impacting job creation.
A better-informed public, benefitting from an awareness of proactive crime mitigation strategies, is an important step towards improving public safety, regardless of the general crime level. Making your home and business safer does not mean criminals will rather target someone else – community safety and crime prevention are not a zero-sum game. By being safer in your own space and landlords encouraging tenants to be vigilant, the entire neighbourhood is better off. Again, this safety synergy can be extended to a national level, safer cities make for safer regions, and so forth.
Such a development, of course, needs to be supported by effective policing resources, but the mindset of ordinary citizens towards being vigilant must be in place. It is a necessary condition to create a true crime-free society.