The SAPS needs to change, or continue failing – these UK policing techniques could help

 ·2 Mar 2021

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has published a new evidence-based policing guide, which it says can help reduce crime in South Africa based on international best practices.

The group noted a worrying increase in violent crime for the last quarter of 2020, including for murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery and rape.

It added that murder levels started rising in 2012, with no successful interventions put in place to stop them. To combat this trend of failure, it has been proposed that the police force adopts an evidence-based approach to policing, which would see a complete shift in how we think about policing.

“Evidence-based policing can be a confusing concept because of the word evidence. For police, evidence has always meant the collection of information or clues that help solve a crime. But in evidence-based policing, ‘evidence’ is the best existing research about what police activities work, and what don’t,” the ISS said.

“Evidence-based policing is not a ‘model’ to replace other ‘models’. Rather, it is about a shift in how we think about policing and safety. It is the recognition that if an activity or tactic is intended to achieve a particular outcome, there must be a clear link between the activity or tactic and the intended results. ”

The ISS noted that police officers have few incentives to admit error, ask questions, or innovate in their jobs. Reward is earned through actions such as vehicles searched or suspects arrested, with the assumption that this improves safety.

“And yet, despite the vast number of policing activities purportedly carried out by the SAPS each year, violent crime remains endemic. A change in organisational culture, one that embraces failure as a learning opportunity, could improve things,” it said.

The ISS said that its evidence-based policing guide shows how police can learn from failure, and summarises lessons from elsewhere in the world.

Evidence-based policing recognises that experience and intuition are crucial, but that policing should also be informed by research that tests our ideas or beliefs, it said.

“Officials are meant to create crime plans, execute them, evaluate them and adapt them. But the performance and operational environment doesn’t make this practically possible. “Instead, when the process occurs, it’s often a paper exercise. This is the antithesis of learning – it is like policing in the dark.”

The group outlined some of the proven methods of policing – primarily from the UK – which could be applied locally to bring better outcomes to crime prevention.

Proposal How it works
Hotspot policing This strategy involves targeting resources and activities to those places where crime is most concentrated.
Healthcare screening for domestic abuse The use of screening tools to identify experiences of violence and abuse of women attending primary and secondary healthcare clinics.
Alley gating Lockable gates installed to prevent access to alleyways by potential burglars or offenders.
Restorative justice A planned face to face meeting between a victim, the offenders and others to discuss the consequences of the offence and agree to how the offenders should repair the harm they have caused.
Street lighting A form of situational crime prevention that involves improving or increasing the levels of illumination in the street and other public spaces.
Electronic tagging: Sex offences Involves placing an electronic tag around the ankle or wrist of an offender which, in combination with a receiving device, can verify their whereabouts at specified times.
Red-light cameras A fully automated traffic light camera, which permits the remote enforcement of traffic signals to prevent crashes occurring after running a red light.
Motivational interviewing A non-judgemental, empathic and optimistic counselling style used with offenders who have been ordered by a court to attend a standard programme for domestic violence perpetrators.
Alcohol pricing Increasing tax on alcohol, or alcohol pricing more generally, to reduce alcohol consumption and related negative outcomes.
Car breathalyser locks Alcohol ignition interlocks are intended to reduce drink driving. To operate a vehicle, the driver must breath into a device and have an acceptable blood alcohol concentration, without which the vehicle will not start.
CCTV Closed-circuit television surveillance cameras serve many functions and are used in both public and private settings. Cameras can be used to aid crime prevention, the detection of offenders, and crowd management.
Drug courts Drug courts cater to offenders who are also drug users or drug addicts. As an alternative to the normal court system, they use a system of supervision, reward and punishment where a judge and the drug court team support the participant throughout the process.
Firearm laws Laws designed to limit the availability of firearms to reduce or prevent violent crime. They include the introduction of waiting periods or background checks for the purchase of firearms, safe storage laws, and weapon bans.
Relationship violence education Educational interventions to prevent relationship violence in adolescents and young adults by promoting an awareness of acceptable dating behaviour and an individual’s rights within a relationship.

The full document, embedded below, covers the full spectrum of policing techniques, and how effective they have been in facilitating crime prevention outcomes.

Read: What you need to know about South Africa’s latest crime stats

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