Today marks the release of the 2015/2016 national crime statistics by the South African Police Services (SAPS). These crime stats already show a 4.9% increase to the murder rate across South Africa compare to the 2014/2015 year in review.

It is no doubt that this increase, along with other details of the latest crime stats, will make headlines and dominate news site for the next few weeks. But while feelings about the numbers, after its initial release often range from apathy to outrage, many don’t understand what these statistics mean or how it affects our lives.

So, what are the national crime statistics?

The crime stats are essentially a collection of all the crime related incidents reported at the over 1000 police stations in the country.

These figures have been publicly provided since 1994 with the establishment of the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS).

The NCPS prioritises the collection of the crimes reported to the police so that effective crime fighting strategies could be established and to properly allocate police resources.

SAPS release the crime stats annually (in September) and cover crimes reported from the beginning of April of the previous year to the end of March of the current year. This means that when the minister of police presents his reports in parliament, the statistics are already 6 months old and do not represent current crime trends.

But if the crime stats are old, why are they important?

It is important that these numbers are collected because it shows historical trends and patterns in crime. It can also provide some insight that can assist broad crime prevention strategies implemented by the police.

These statistics also provide international context. South Africa has for many years been synonymous with high level of crime because of our violent past. But while we still have high numbers of crimes, it has decreased since its peak in the early 2000s. It is important to correctly portray South Africa and change international perceptions as a country’s reputation can influence investment.

The crime stats can also influence the way we perceive crime. Our perception of crime affects the decisions we make. It affects where we live, where we work, whom we vote for or how involved we are in our community’s efforts to combat crime.

And while the national crime stats don’t break down the numbers to a community level, figures for your neighbourhood should be provided by your local police station.

These statistics don’t only sketch a picture of crime in South Africa but access to this information promote a more active citizenry to become involved in contributing to public safety as envisaged in the National Development Plan.

Watch this space for a break down of the 2016 crime stats.

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