While public confidence in the police has declined in recent years, more white households that had fallen victim to housebreaking were satisfied with police performance than their black counterparts.
This was one of the findings of Stats SA’s Victims of Crime Survey, which was released on Thursday.
A total of 30 000 households across the country took part in the research. The results show that household satisfaction with the police has decreased over the past five years, from 64.2% of respondents in 2011, to 57.3% in 2016/17.
Of the households that had been burgled in the past financial year, only 38% were satisfied with the police’s handling of their cases.
And of those, almost six out of 10 (59.9%) were headed by whites, while only a third (33.3%) were black-headed homes.
Gauteng Community Policing Forum board deputy chairperson Vernon Smith attributed an overall decline in confidence in police to the fact that they had too few vehicles and too few officers.
Another factor, according to Smith, was “a couple of rotten apples” and corrupt officers.
It was no surprise that white-headed households were happier with the police, because they were better off and could protect themselves through private security, he said.
He said suburbs where white families predominated were not as highly populated as townships and informal settlements, where more crime could be expected.
“Here there is lawlessness to an extent that police are afraid to go in at times. There are likely to be more victims in such areas and, given the challenges cited earlier, police may not have everything they need in abundance to fight the crime,” he said.
“Most people in informal settlements are poor and can’t protect themselves. On the other hand, we have the police from whom they are expecting protection, but they are also faced with their own internal struggles, which the government is well aware of.”
The survey found that black-headed households were 10 times more likely to be burgled than their white counterparts. A total of 533 901 black-headed homes were burgled in 2016/17 compared with 54 407 white-headed ones.
Of households that reported satisfaction with police, 35% said officers were committed to their jobs. Of the unhappy households, 59% reasoned that police would never recover their stolen property.
Alarmingly, the survey found that just over half (51.2%) of all housebreaking incidents were reported to police.
Of those who did not report these crimes, 31.9% said police could do nothing about it and 28.3% believed police would not do anything about it.
“This could be an indication of lack of confidence in the police,” Stats SA said in its report.
When it comes to provinces where residents are generally happy with the police, the Northern Cape leads the pack at 52.6%, followed by Western Cape at 49.3%.
KwaZulu-Natal residents are the least happy with their police, with a 28.1% satisfaction rate.
In addition, male-headed households were more likely to be burgled than those headed by women, the survey found.
The 2016/17 figures show that 408 043 male-headed homes were broken into, compared with 239 297 female-headed ones.
Another factor that could have an impact on burglary reporting rates, according to the survey, could be the distance between a household and its nearest police station.
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said: “That has to do with infrastructure, how far the police station is, and the efficiency of the police.”
According to the survey, in 2016/17 “slightly less than two-thirds of households in South Africa took less than half an hour to reach their nearest police station.
“For the same period, about 28% of households thought it took between 30 minutes and an hour, on average, to reach a police station.”
National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said the public’s perception of police performance was changeable. What contributed to negative perceptions were incidents where police officers were arrested along with other suspects.
“I can’t say whether the public perception has gone down or not, I didn’t do the survey. But our prisons would not be as full as they are if police are doing nothing.”
Responding to the survey’s finding that more white-headed households affected by house burglaries were happier with the police than their black counterparts, Naidoo said “all people are victims of crime”.