September 23, 2004

Police statistics show a drop in violent crimes

South African police recorded a drop in violent crimes, including murder, attempted murder and common robberies, in the past year as they gained the upper hand in the fight against crime, National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi said. The 2003- 04 crime statistics were collected from 1.136 police stations between April last year and March this year. Crimes that recorded an increase included drug-related crimes, the illegal possession of firearms, aggravated robbery and driving under the influence. According to the survey, 42,2% of all murders last year were committed with a firearm. To curb this, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula has offered amnesty to people in possession of illegal firearms. The amnesty starts next month and ends in December.
All provinces recorded decreases in their murder rate, except for Eastern Cape which recorded a slight increase. Western Cape recorded a decrease of 24,7% in its murder rate. In property-related crime, housebreaking at business premises was down 14%, theft from vehicles down 14% and stock theft had dropped 13%.
In the meantime, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) has reported that a five-year delay in implementing new rules governing the use of lethal force by the South African Police Service has contributed to the high number of deaths by shooting at the hands of police. Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act allowed police to shoot fleeing suspects regardless of the severity of the crime they were suspected of having committed. It was scrapped by Parliament in 1998 and replaced with a provision that specifies police may only shoot when lives are in danger. But the police stonewalled the new law for five years and it only came into effect in October last year, halfway through the period under review in the report.
ICD executive director Karen McKenzie said in the police watchdog's annual report, tabled in Parliament, that the delay in the implementation of the new section 49 "was not helpful, especially since it tended to cause confusion to the rank and file police officers". According to her, 360 of the 380 deaths in 2003/04 as a result of police action had been as a result of shooting incidents. McKenzie also reported a 35,2% increase in deaths in police custody and as a result of police action compared with 2002/03, which the report said would be attributed to increases in "community vigilantism", suicides in custody, police assaults on people in custody, and natural causes. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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