Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crime still makes SAns quake

A reduction of crime 2% here, 3% there, what difference does such small numbers make? It's like being caught speeding at 118 km/h as opposed to 120 km/h when the speed limit is 60 km/h.

Most South Africans believe crime-fighting efforts of the past four years have not worked despite evidence of an overall decline in the crime rate.

These findings come from the third survey of crime and victimisation, The Dynamics of Crime, which was commissioned by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

This study asks ordinary South Africans about their experience of crime to determine the effects and to independently verify the country's official crime statistics. It uses data from research in 1998, 2003 and 2007 to track trends.

According to ISS researcher Robyn Pharoah the study supports the view "that crime levels are, if not declining to more acceptable levels, at least stabilising".

In 1998 about a quarter of South Africans reported that they had experienced crime over the previous 12 months, dropping to just under 23% in 2003 and 22% in 2007.

Over the nine-year period studied there was a decline in some serious crimes such as murder, housebreaking, robbery and assault. Murder and robbery, however, show a slight upward trend during the period between 2003 and 2007.

Respondents to the latest survey said they were most afraid of burglary, then murder and sexual assault. This was a change from 2003 when people were most afraid of being murdered, having their houses broken into and sexual assault.

Although 79% of respondents felt that crime was committed by South Africans, the proportion of people blaming foreign nationals doubled from less than 5% in 2003 to 10% by 2007.

"In light of the recent xenophobic attacks against foreigners, these views may also point to a general growing hostility towards non-South Africans," according to the study.

In 2007 people surveyed were more likely to say the motivations for crime were greed (39%) and non-financial reasons (28% for violent crimes and 25% for property crimes). The report said this suggests a hardening of attitudes with respondents less likely to believe that crime was motivated by real need than in 2003.

The majority of those interviewed, the study shows, were mostly likely to have been "burgled, had personal property stolen or to have been robbed".

The largest drops in crime reported by participants in the study were in stock theft, assault and fraud, all of which declined by about 3%.

A positive finding is that people were more likely to report crimes to the police in 2007 than in 1998 -- except in cases of "theft out of vehicles" and "property theft".

The increased willingness to report crimes was particularly marked in cases of assault, where reporting rates almost doubled from 38% in 1998 to 76% in 2007.

Despite these modest improvements South Africans have a more pessimistic perception of the crime situation in South Africa.

"Almost three out of every five (57%) of those interviewed in 2007 felt that crime levels increased in the four-year interval between the 2003 and 2007 surveys," the study says.

Respondents were not asked to give their perception on the crime situation in 1998. According to the study, "Indians and to a lesser extent whites, were significantly more negative about crime than Africans and coloureds" with well over 85% of Indians reporting that crime had increased.

The majority of South Africans reported feeling personally more at risk in 2007 than in 1998 when more than half respondents had said they felt safe "walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark".

This figure declined to 23% in 2003 and had fallen to 21% by 2007. People living in Gauteng, Mpumulanga and North West felt most insecure about their personal safety.

Locals want punitive measures
South Africans are hardening their hearts towards criminals with an increasing number saying the government should move towards punitive measures rather than relying on social transformation to fight crime.

The latest National Victims of Crime Survey by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) shows this hardening of attitudes is particularly marked when violent crime is concerned.

"In 2007, only half (52%) of the respondents felt that social development should be prioritised to address property crime while only two-fifths (37%) felt that this would be most effective in addressing violent crime," according to the research report.

This contrasts with the 2003 report, when 62% of South Africans said government should focus on social development to combat crime, especially when it related to property. In that earlier report about 50% felt the same approach would also work to prevent violent crime.

The hardening of attitudes, especially towards violent crime, has occurred in all race groups.

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