South African Police made a record 1.6 million arrests for various crimes, but mostly for petty crimes, in the 2011-2012 financial year, an increase of 11% compared to the previous year.
But that did not stop criminals for terrorising fed-up communities as statistics show that total crime has this year increased by 0.7%.
Experts argue that making arrests is not always a good deterrent to reducing crime.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) this week said that international studies have found that while large-scale arrests for petty crimes may decrease crime rates in the short term, this strategy can increase the crime rate in the long term.
Lizette Lancaster, ISS Manager of the Crime and Justice Hub, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, wrote in the ISS Weekly Report: “Studies show that those who have been arrested are likely to become more defiant towards law enforcement authorities.
“These studies have also found that most types of arrests for petty crime do not act as deterrents to individuals, especially if they are unemployed and feel marginalised. Instead, these arrests can lead to increased disorder and criminality.”
Pretoria-based Lancaster added: “Looking at the bigger picture, the police may be reaching a point where they are doing considerable harm to community relationships. Less than half the population trust the police and last year’s 1.6 million arrests must adversely affect a substantial proportion of both the adult and juvenile population of the country.
“Furthermore, many of these arrests are illegal and are accompanied by abuses, as is evidenced by the substantial increases in civil claims against the police for wrongful arrests over the past few years.”
SA Police, described by critics as one of the most brutal police forces in the world, have been singled out for its violent methods when conducting crime operations. People have been kicked while on the ground, slapped, shouted at, others shot at and died or injured for no valid reasons – all this in the name of reducing crime. And the slogan ‘Shoot to Kill’, entrenched under disgraced former police boss Bheki Cele, also worsened the situation.
Police in South Africa have also been seen as ‘xenophobic’ and ‘racist’ while arresting foreigners. Most crime operations conducted in areas highly populated with foreigners have resulted to physical and verbal abuse and acts of intimidation.
“Being arrested by the police for a petty crime can ‘permanently lower police legitimacy, both for the arrested person and their social network of family and friends’,” Lancaster said, quoting renowned US policing expert Lawrence Sherman.
“This is because being arrested is usually a traumatic experience for most people. Too often police officers treat arrestees harshly in an effort to ‘show them who’s boss’ and to punish them, as very few of these arrests make it to the court and those arrested feel victimised over a petty misdemeanor.”
Lancaster, again quoting Sherman, said: “Modest but consistent scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that the less respectful police are towards suspects and citizens generally, the less people will comply with the law. Changing police ‘style’ may thus be as important as focusing police ‘substance’. Making both the style and substance of police practices more ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of the public, particularly high-risk juveniles, may be one of the most effective long-term police strategies for crime prevention.”
The Institute for Security Studies believes that large arrest figures are not assumed to be indicators of police success.
“To assess whether a police operation is successful or not, monthly breakdowns of the crime statistics for the areas where the operation took place are needed. In the absence of this data, an independent assessment is not possible. Ideally, the police should be working closely with research organisations to regularly assess the impact of operations against specific crime categories in both the short and the long term.
“This is entirely possible given the data that is currently collected by the SAPS and other organisations. The detailed police budget for the next financial year will be presented to parliament in March 2013.
“However, without independent assessments of police performance, parliamentarians and the public will not know whether we are getting value for the well over R60 billion per year allocated to our police service,” Lancaster concluded.
*Photo by AP.