Spotlight: Violent crime falls after South Africa’s first hot spot policing trial

ISS helped design and facilitate the trial in a Cape Town area notorious for gangs and a violent drug trade.

28 FEB 2024  

Hot spot policing involves the strategic use of data to direct police resources to where they have the most impact. It is widely practised, but seldom properly evaluated.

An evidence-based intervention was piloted in Tafelsig in the Cape Town suburb of Mitchell’s Plain. Police recorded 125 murders in Mitchell’s Plain over 12 months in the 2022/23 reporting period used by the South African Police Service (SAPS). That amounts to a rate of about 60 murders per 100 000 people – much higher than the national average of 45.

For just over two months in 2023, police carried out brief, frequent and unpredictable patrols in a small high-crime part of Tafelsig, concentrating on the days and times when crime was most likely. This approach was based on international evidence showing that crime reduces when police first patrol an area, but the impact diminishes if patrols become predictable or less frequent. Optimal effectiveness requires precise time-limited patrols, making it possible to cover more locations.

The result was a 20% decline in violent crime in Tafelsig, proving that astutely planned visible law enforcement, in the right place at the right time, can discourage potential offenders and reduce opportunities for crime.

‘The ISS helped us to try something new and measure its impact,’ said SAPS Cape Town District Commissioner Maj Gen Vincent Beaton. ‘We worked with ISS experts to develop operational plans based on better use of crime data and to target our resources more strategically. The overall effect was to make communities safer.’

The 20% decline in violent crime shows the impact of astutely planned visible policing

The proven effect of the intervention has prompted further trials. This approach to hot spot policing will now be rolled out at four more high-crime police stations in Cape Town to assess if the results can be repeated and scaled up.

Also involved in developing and implementing the pilot were the City of Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate and the Western Cape Province’s Department of Police Oversight and Community Safety.

A team of around 30 people prepared for the trial, including SAPS and city operational commanders and crime analysts. They were guided by the ISS through a tailored two-month course developed by the Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing.

The team met regularly during the trial to review crime data and track adherence to the plan using SAPS vehicle location information, data from Cape Town’s Emergency Policing and Incident Command, WhatsApp records and police logs. 

‘We have helped to bring more scientific rigour to policing in South Africa,’ says Anine Kriegler, Senior Researcher on justice and violence prevention at the ISS.

‘Hot spot policing drives more efficient data-driven deployment that leaves a lingering deterrent even after the police move on. This is much more effective than random patrols based on convenience and police habits.’ It also boosts SAPS morale by showing officers that what they are doing is working.

The ISS has shared lessons from the trial with SAPS station commanders, visible policing units, crime analysts and community safety specialists.

‘This was the first instance in South Africa where we could quantify the impact of a policing intervention with scientific rigour, setting a new standard for evidence-based law enforcement,’ says Kriegler.  

For more information, contact:

Anine Kriegler, ISS:

Image: © Amelia Broodryk/ISS

Evidence-based Policing


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