For those who do not know what a embargo is, it’s when there is a agreement not to release something to the public/press for a specific time period. Nathi Mthethwa Police Commissioner has called a embargo on all police reports because he unwisely believes it would frighten foreigners who want to come to the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa.
Remember these are police reports not crime statistics. Police reports are what is filed in explaining what the police found at a crime scene or whatever is needed for instance if someone assaulted someone else. This will not influence visitors these are things that locals can use to help with crime. This could also stop communication between the police and the public so we would be left in the dark about what is really happening in our very own towns.
MadibengPulse wrote a objection letter to the Minister of Police and the National Commissioner
Dear Minister and Commissioner,
- Re: Embargo on crime reports issued by police stations
An embargo has been placed on police stations providing newspapers with crime reports. It was said that the embargo was meant to ‘protect the Soccer World Cup next year so that potential visitors are not put off from coming to South Africa by high crime statistics. ‘
We’ll show that such thinking is seriously flawed, unnecessary even for the dubious goal of protecting the World Cup and an example of how the SAPS is shooting itself in the foot by heeding advisers who have not done straight thinking on the issue.
In the thinking process – if there was one – which preceded a decision to restrict information on crime at local police stations, several incompatible concepts were apparently confused:
- Local crime reports versus National crimes statistics.
- Go it alone policing versus Community policing.
- The difference between a statistic and reality
- The interests of the SAPS nationally versus the interests of the local police stations.
- Provincial crime reports versus local crime reports.
We’ll examine each of these aspects to illustrate our point.
1. National crime statistics and crime reports.
These two phenomena bear little relationship to each other in reality except that, presumably, if one totals the various types and totals for each category of crime at all the police stations in the country for a given period, one would arrive at a national statistic for each category of crime for that period.
- These statistics – being abstract in nature – would be of little real interest or use to a citizen living in a police district.
Their only conceivable use would be for the opposition parties to use in parliament as a stick to beat the government and for the top management of the SAPS and the president to measure the effectiveness of various approaches in combating crime. So, the compilation and publishing of these statistics have no influence on effective community policing.
The only organisation which can possibly compile these figures from crime reports at local police stations to arrive at provincial and national statistics is the SAPS. So whether or not such statistics are compiled and used by opposition parties to show how badly the police are doing or by Andy Capp the London soccer fan in deciding to come to the World Cup or stay away, is entirely in the hands of the SAPS top management.
2. SAPS policing versus Community policing.
The effect on local policing of restricting national statistics would be virtually zero, but the effect of placing embargoes on local reports is extremely negative. If the top managements of the SAPS believe it themselves when they tell the public that effective policing is the result of teamwork between the SAPS and the community, why should they then take a decision that leaves the other half of the team in the dark?
In many thousands of experiments in industrial psychology it has been shown without exception, that if teams are given tasks to perform, those who get continuous feedback on results, far outperform teams which are kept in the dark. The criminal grapevine has continuous feedback on their successes and failures, why should the other half of the community policing team be deprived of it?
Our newspaper reported a few months ago on the local head of uniform policing saying that local crime compared to a year ago had been cut in half. We report continuously on police matters because of its importance in everybody’s life, and we know that such results came from good policing, a clean up of corrupt policing at our police station and the installation of neighbourhood watches.
- Would those who work tiresome hours without pay and at their own expense be willing to do so if they’re kept in the dark about its effectiveness? How you do motivate them if it’s not with the feedback of their own successes?
This embargo merely serves to interfere with the mutual trust between communities and their local police which is an essential ingredient for effective policing.
3. The difference between a statistic and reality.
There is a difference between those who take part in community policing, the police reservists, the CPF and neighbourhood watches on the one hand, and those who merely read about crime in their local newspaper. But even for those, local crime reports are valuable. Reading about a murder in Cape Town is a statistic; reading about it in my neighbourhood is a reality. It makes me double lock my doors, warn my neighbours and report any suspicious looking characters to the police.
Reports on a series of car thefts in my suburb, cause me to take extra care with my car thus making it more difficult for the car thieves and easier for the police.
Such reactions to local crime reports, which strengthen community policing, have nothing to do with crimes statistics, which are abstractions and bear no resemblance to local realities.
Perhaps Mr. Minister and Commissioner, you should have another look at those of your advisers who do not know the difference between a local crime report and a national statistic, or their influences on community policing. The influence of the statistic is zero; the reality of reports is immense.
4. The interests of the SAPS nationally versus the interest of the local police station.
The local police station has very little to do with national or provincial statistics, but much to do with crime statistics for the particular police station. Presumably, you use statistics at the local level to assess the performance of the members and the station commissioner. (This assumes of course that you keep staff at one police station long enough and do not chop and change policies, which will make it impossible to measure performance for an individual police station.)
The community which is part of a policing district does not have a great interest in local statistics which is a measure of incidents over a given time period. But they very definitely have an interest in current crime reports and trends as realities on an ongoing basis. They react to these and so form a vital part of the total community policing effort. If you withhold that information from them they will lose interest and, dare one say, live in a fool’s paradise and such people would not be very useful to have as partners in community policing.
In conclusion, it may be necessary in your perception to keep national crimes figures secret, but it’s definitely not in the interest of the local police station to withhold information on individual crime incidents from the community.
5. Provincial crime reports versus local crime reports.
Advisers, whom I also suggest you should have another look at, presumably suggested that crime reports should be provided by a provincial press office; in other words information should be controlled. This is based on a complete misconception of the function of a newspaper in a community. Newspapers do not need a certain quota of crime reports to fill editorial space nor do they have a demand for a given percentage of crime stories. They publish crime reports because they are of interest to their readers and they have such reader interest when they are local.
Who cares if you live in Hartbeespoort or Brits and a bank manager in Taung conspired with his teller to conspire with two robbers to fake a robbery? But put that bank in Brits or Hartbeespoort and every resident is interested. It is only through such interest and the vital interest in one’s personal safety – and personal safety is a local reality not a statistic - that you get the cooperation of the community. And as we all agree, community cooperation is vital for effective policing.
This newspaper attends every Community Policing Forum meeting, not because what happens there is always that interesting, but because we believe we should inform our readers about community policing. We regularly went to police stations (before the embargo) for briefings – often to be stood up by discourteous police members at Brits Police Station – not because, as professionals we think all the crime reports are that interesting, but because we believe that to establish a point of contact between the police and the community, is vital to community policing. In what way would you as top SAPS management do it otherwise? Your official press releases are far too dull to rely on for automatic publication.
None of our readers or the local police would question our commitment to maintaining healthy relations between the public and their local police station, and we lauded the appointment of both you the Minister and you the Commissioner because of a new attitude of putting the honest citizen ahead of the criminal.
For that reason we make no apology in shooting from the hip by saying: in an emergency at a crime scene it may make sense to shoot first and ask questions later. In a vast organisation with complicated interrelationships with the public it serves, an embargo decision should not have been taken in an act now and think later mode.
We urge you to rethink the decision to withhold crime reports from the media; in the long term it will do more harm than good to local policing.
R. J. R. Dreyer
The ANC is trying to handle all the problems the ‘ostrich’ way, if you make as if there is no problem and act as if there is no problem the problem will go away or at least divert everyone’s attention away from the problem. They honestly think if they stop the police reports from reaching the international press that is what is best for the people. The world needs to see what dire situation we have with crime not smooth it over so that we can get more tourist to come.