*Witnessing criminal-like actions, or actions to prevent crime
**e.g. stealing hosepipe from garden
*** e.g. throwing stones at property
Making sense of Onderpapegaaiberg crime incidents
I have only analysed some of the Onderpapegaaiberg data. I need to explain what I have omitted. And why.
Excluded: suspicious persons
I omitted the category of “suspicious persons/behaviour” from this analysis. For two reasons. There are no objective criteria for what constitutes suspicious behaviour. Furthermore, I have not seen an objective demonstration of probable cause for crime.
Criteria for “suspicious”
There is a subjective definition of “suspicious”. Mr Van Zyl had no hard-and-fast definition. He and his officer employees have the following guidelines.
The officer doesn’t recognise a person as having been in the area before. They know regular beggars or bag vendors. They are not suspicious.
The person is knocking at doors, also ringing door bells. Presumably this is to ascertain whether anyone is at home.
The person is looking into residential yards.
The person is in a vehicle with a registration number from another area. The vehicle is parked in the area after close of business hours, typically after dark.
Discretion and evidence
Bar the last criterion, there seems a wide latitude of discretion in identifying suspicious behaviour. The key is the first point. If you are a stranger, they target you. You don’t fit the profile of the neighbourhood. Can we show evidence of probable cause for those apprehended? If so, it makes sense to count these as crime incidents. Accordingly, I asked Mr Van Zyl for the following data:
For suspicious people apprehended, i.e. 30 persons from 01/05/18 to 01/08/18 and 32 persons from 01/05/17 to 01/08/17:
- On how many of these persons did Stellenbosch Watch find suspicious-looking objects (like weapons, a large quantity of goods, etc)?
- How many of these persons did Stellenbosch Watch hand over to police?
- Number of these persons the police charged?
- How many of these persons did a court convict?
As at time of publication I had received no reply to my request.
Excluded: armed robbery, public violence and illegal firearms
I omitted the categories of “armed robbery”, “public violence” and “illegal firearms”. It appears only in a few instances in the 2017 figures. But not at all in the 2018 data. I reside in Onderpapegaaiberg. To the best of my knowledge armed robberies, public violence and illegal firearms are felonies that do not occur regularly here. Extrapolating from quarterly data slices to annualised data, would distort the frequency of these types of incidents.
Onderpapegaaiberg crime risk
I understand from a ward committee member that Onderpapegaaiberg has about 430 houses. Stellenbosch Watch did not give me the annual figures. To compare trends here with the broader Stellenbosch figures we need to annualise the quarterly figures. I am therefore left with calculating annualised figures assuming monthly averages that reflect the figures for these two quarters. On an annualised basis there were the following number of incidents.
For 2017: Proactive actions (preventative) – 52; Burglaries – 28; and, Petty theft – 16. Total – 96. This translates to a risk of crime incident per household of 22 per cent. Excluding Stellenbosch Watch’s and the Neighbourhood Watch’s proactive actions incidents, reduces this risk to 12 per cent.
For 2018: Proactive actions (preventative) – 116; Burglaries – 28; Petty theft – 20; Malicious damage – 8. Total – 172. This translates into a risk of crime incident per household of 40 per cent. Excluding Stellenbosch Watch’s and the Neighbourhood Watch’s proactive actions reduces this risk to 13 per cent.
Prevention of witnessed criminal activities made the neighbourhood much safer. By being in the streets and public space guardians saw criminal activities. They took action. The Watches reduced crime incidents. They achieved this without having to apprehend suspicious people. The risk of burglaries is still higher than for Stellenbosch as a whole. This aligns with Stellenbosch Watch’s report that Onderpapegaaiebrg had the highest number of incidents these past three months.
Statistically the chances of armed robbery and murder are very small in Onderpapegaaiberg. The risk is greatest for burglaries. The Watches’ proactive activities have reduced this risk signifcantly. There is no evidence demonstrating how stop-and-frisk has contributed to this. The analysis is of data prior to the completion of the Fence. At this juncture the impact of the Fence on crime incidents is unknown.
Evaluating the Fence
Mr Van Zyl explained that the Fence limits criminals’ escape routes. This enables security and the police to corner and detain them. Thus the Fence might well further mitigate burglary risk by reducing escape routes. From now on, we need to track the trends in Onderpapegaaiberg incident data. We need to compare future trends with historical ones. In this way we can evaluate the crime prevention perfomance of the Fence
Social justice and defence against crime
How we defend ourselves from crime impacts on our relationship with broader society. In our society suburbs are islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty. Extreme inequality is also a sympton of social and historical injustice. We who live in prosperity benefitted unfairly from an unjust system. I care about the dignity and quality of life of the marginalised majority. I struggle against exploitative class and social power relations. This is separate from the question of my effective defence against crime. Yet it is also linked. This is because extreme inequality also drives crime. Addressing inequality can therefore be part of social action to reduce crime. We tried to do that with the Vuya Report on the Papegaaiberg. I referred to this in the previous post, “Ways of seeing crime and fencing”.
Objectivity and hysteria
Extreme crime, like armed robberies, murder, provokes fear. Fear in turn feeds hysteria. This drives people into enclosures. The calmer we feel the more open we are to ‘others’, otherwise perceived as a threat. I tried to introduce a calm analysis. To have a debate on crime and security. And not simply to accept what the security experts say. I think a calmer state of mind might open people up to seeing the structures of inequity. These social structures – like a skewed economy – also drive the crime problem. I have also referred to Vuya’s alternative developmental proposal for the Papegaaiberg. Which was also a crime prevention strategy. Readers will make up their own minds about the meaning of this information. And what they think should be done. I welcome direct comments on the post. Particularly those that are critical of the analysis.
In the fourth post in this series I share my thoughts on what I call security mentalities. Especially the unconscious assumptions that drive these.
Paul Hendler, Onderpapegaaiberg, 16 August 2018.