Targeted policing needed to reduce South Africa’s endemic crime and violence

Murder and armed robbery rose for the eighth consecutive year according to statistics released by the police.

31 JUL 2020  

Pretoria, South Africa – Targeted interventions are needed to reduce stubbornly high levels of  murder and armed robbery in South Africa, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said as police announced another rise in violent crime.

Murder and armed robbery rose for the eighth consecutive year in crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) on Friday 31 July. These two crime categories give the best sense of the state of public safety in the country.

While the murder rate more than halved between 1994 and 2012, the latest figures show that since then, murder has increased by 37%, with an additional 5 771 murders in 2019/20 compared to 2012. Aggravated robbery is up 43%, with 43 221 more armed attacks in 2019/20 than eight years ago.

With the murder rate of 36 per 100 000 people remaining unchanged over the past year, there is some hope that this crime type might be stabilising for the country as a whole. Over the last year however, murder increased by a substantial 10.6% in KwaZulu-Natal and 5% in Mpumalanga.

Domestic violence remains a huge concern, the ISS said, accounting for 16% of the total annual murders where a motive was identified. Vigilantism accounted for 13%, armed robberies for 11%, and gang-related violence for 1 023 killings.

‘Like most crimes, murder and armed robbery are not randomly distributed but have again been focused around known risk areas,’ said ISS Justice and Violence Prevention Head Gareth Newham. ‘That means police should have the ability to apply crime intelligence and analysis, evidence-based practices and targeted interventions to address these most serious crimes.’

In the latest police figures just 2.6% of police precincts accounted for 19.8% of murders. ‘We have seen this trend for several years. There is a well-established pattern of most murders happening in known hotspots.’ 

In a similar trend to murder, 2.6% of police station areas accounted for 19.3% of armed robberies. Most of these violent crimes are committed by relatively few perpetrators who are linked to networks that trade in stolen goods. ‘Police should be able to identify the people responsible through effective crime intelligence, enabling them to substantially reduce armed attacks in a relatively short period of time,’ Newham said.

Street robbery is often a ‘gateway offence’ through which typically young offenders are introduced to weapons, violence and more formal networks of serious crime.

Violent crimes such as murder and assault are clustered in identifiable localities and are frequently associated with particular behaviours like heavy alcohol consumption. They occur at particular times, and often between people who know each other.

‘Targeted policing and custom strategies that address localised drivers in areas where harm is most predictable would make police more effective,’ said ISS Senior Researcher Dr Andrew Faull. ‘If we halve weekend murders in just 30 police stations, we could save more than 1 000 lives a year, bringing national murder down by 5%’.

The ISS noted a slowing down in the rate of increase in murder and armed robbery with a welcome reduction in home robberies (down 5.8%) and cash-in-transit heists (10.4%) over the past year. However, there has been a notable 13.3% increase in carjacking.

The ISS remains concerned by the absence of a dedicated strategy to professionalise policing in South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration took welcome measures to improve national intelligence, strengthen the Hawks and rebuild the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

But similar steps have not been taken to strengthen local level policing despite many reports highlighting interventions needed to address SAPS’ challenges. Very few recommendations in the National Development Plan (2012), the Marikana Commission of Inquiry (2015), or a panel of experts into public order policing (2018) have been implemented.

Police resources are therefore not optimally used. Widespread police brutality and corruption continue to undermine the efforts of honest, dedicated and hardworking police officials on the front lines, the ISS said. Public trust in SAPS will not improve until police officers treat all people fairly and are held accountable when they don’t do so.

‘We therefore welcome the new SAPS 2020-2025 strategic plan which recognises the importance of building public trust,’ Newham said. ‘In particular, the establishment and expansion of specialised units such as the murder and robbery units, and the use of new performance indicators, is encouraging.’

The ISS welcomed Minister of Police Bheki Cele’s commitment to more regularly provide the public with crime information through quarterly releases of crime statistics. Annual figures are too outdated to be of significant use to guide responses to crime.

‘Access to more regular and reliable data will equip the public, private sector, civil society and government departments with important insights and information to enable intelligent and targeted interventions,’ Newham said.


For further information and interviews, please contact:

Gabi Falanga, Proof Africa:; +27 79 458 0888

Anzet du Plessis, Proof Africa:; +27 83 557 2322

Photo: Roger Sedres / Alamy Stock Photo

Professional Policing


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