This is part of a series on crime in South Africa, involving statistics and musings.
The site www.africacheck.org gives a good definition of the kinds of crimes categorised by the South African Police Services (SAPS). A great resource for exploring crime statistics in South African can be found at Crime Stats SA, which presents the data in an interactive manner. There’s also a great article up on Daily Maverick.
Categories of crime
The annual SAPS crime statistics report tends to focus on what it terms “serious crime”. How these are broken down by SAPS tends to differ slightly with each annual report which has added to confusion and uncertainty about crime trends however these crimes can broadly be divided into:
- Crimes against a person – generally referred to as “contact crime” where a person or people are injured/harmed or threatened with injury/harm during the commission of a crime. A further sub-category of “contact-related crime” is used for violent crimes committed against property with the intention of causing damage to a person, for example arson or malicious damage to property.
- Crimes against property – crime that occurs in the absence of a victim or where the victim is unaware of the crime at the time (i.e. where no person is directly or immediately harmed or threatened during the commission of a crime) for example theft of or from an unattended vehicle.
- Other serious crimes – includes commercial and financial crimes which range from large-scale fraud and corruption to small-scale incidents such as shoplifting.
- Crime detected by police action – these are crimes that are not reported by the public but detected through direct police action such as roadblocks and SAPS intelligence operations. Crimes under this category include the illegal possession of firearms, DUI or driving under the influence (of drugs or alcohol); and the use, possession or trade of illegal drugs. Increases in the latter two categories (which have been notable over preceding reporting periods) can be directly attributed to intensified police activity rather than an indication of increased DUI or drug crime.
These broad categories are not arbitrary – they are important when it comes to understanding, or attempting to understand, both motive and modus of the crimes, both of which are necessary to understand if effective crime prevention strategies are being deployed. However within these general categories there is often further confusion about or between specific crimes which can lead to misinformation or misinterpretation of data.