Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and policing in South Africa

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A spatial information system for crime

Schwabe (2000) investigated the use of information management systems within the SAPS and found that the SAPS’ management had committed itself to the implementation of information systems, including spatial information systems. The predominant information system currently in use by the SAPS is their Case Administration System (CAS). The CAS is the primary source of information on victims and offenders (Schwabe, 2000) and is essentially a docket management system that gathers information at a police station level on crime cases such as the address and time of the crime. The system runs on the central computers of the SAPS, with all users across South Africa accessing it over the SAPS network (Stylianides, 2000). Besides the CAS, the SAPS has incorporated GISes at over 340 priority police stations countrywide and developed a ‘pilot’ spatial information system at a police station level. While the commitment of the SAPS to implement and utilise these information systems is evident, problems abound in these existing systems including the unavailability of the CAS at a number of police stations countrywide, and the nonalignment of the CAS with the census boundaries of South Africa. The CAS is additionally not linked with any GIS mapping technology, making a spatial description and interpretation of criminal activity impossible. A spatial information system for crime analysis and prevention is required for the SAPS in order to increase its effectiveness and efficiency and better distribute its often-limited resources.
An important conceptual requirement identified by Schwabe and Schurink (2001a) for the development of such a spatial information system is an information technologically orientated police culture. This requirement translates into a culture of using information to prevent and detect criminal activities (Schwabe and Schurink,2001a). The organisational culture of the SAPS should additionally be supportive in its desire to utilise the information system. Schwabe and Schurink (2001a) refer to the example of New York City, which implemented the CompStat approach that ensures that detailed information on crime incidents are collected and used by police officials at different stations on a daily basis. Station commanders are held responsible for the reduction of crime in their areas of jurisdiction by making use of spatial information and appropriate prevention strategies (Schwabe and Schurink, 2001a). The SAPS is currently struggling to adapt to a more intelligent information-driven approach to crime prevention with Schwabe (2000) stating that the SAPS have only recently started developing questionnaires for recording detailed information on certain crime types. Lochner and Zietsman (1998, p.71) additionally note “…one of the biggest problems regarding the implementation of GIS in policing is still the ignorance and negative attitudes amongst employees regarding the value of technology in decisionmaking.”
Parker and Dawes (2003) tested the utility of the SAPS’ GIS information to ascertain the high-risk areas for child abuse in Atlantis in the Western Cape province of South Africa. The researchers noted the failure of the GIS system and recommended that the SAPS utilise their GIS resources better to understand the nature of crime in their area (Parker and Dawes, 2003, p.16). It is evident that while the SAPS’ management has indeed committed itself to the implementation and use of information systems, including spatial information systems, a lot more problems need to be overcome before these systems become an integral part of their day-to-day operation.

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Geocoding is vitally important in spatial crime analysis (Ratcliffe, 2004) and “…is the name commonly given to the process of converting street addresses to latitude and longitude, or some similarly universal coordinate system” (Longley et al., 2005, p.125). In a crime context, geocoding is analogous to traditional pin mapping and is required in order for crime or crime-related data to be spatially displayed in a GIS (Harries, 1999; Chainey and Ratcliffe, 2005). GIS requires that each crime incident within a police station area is provided with a geographic co-ordinate and that each point on the map has detailed information relating to the crime scene, victim and suspect/offender. Crime data pose particular challenges for geocoding (see Chainey and Ratcliffe, 2005), with two predominant challenges facing the spatially mapping of crime incidents in South Africa. First, comprehensive and accurate attribute and spatial information on all crimes committed within an area must be recorded.
According to Schwabe (2000, p.11), the SAPS currently gather a “…minimal amount of information on crimes and crime scenes and consequently, are unable to effectively undertake linkage analysis between one crime and another.” With the result being that with the exception of a few independent research studies (eg. Cooper et al., 2000; Geldenhuys, 2001; Parker and Dawes, 2003; Weir-Smith, 2004) crimes have generally not been spatially located in South Africa (Schwabe, 2000). Additional logistical challenges lie in distinguishing between the ambiguous addresses of the physical crime address noted by the SAPS and the GIS databases that contain corresponding address data (Chainey and Ratcliffe, 2005). The problem can be as a result of sloppy police work through an inaccurate recording of address level data at the crime location, human errors such as misspelling, or incomplete data or data omissions within the police docket. Leggett (2004) notes that in addition, many residents in South Africa live on properties in informal settlements, as well as around mine dumps and in undeveloped areas, in which there is an absence of any physical address, as well as no formal or well-defined road network. These properties or ‘street segments’ are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to geocode.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Key requirements in the development of an urban ecological theory of crime
Chapter 3: Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and policing : A review
Chapter 4: Modeling of violent, economic and sexual offenders: A test of social disorganization in the city of Tshwane
Chapter 5: Crossing the racial divide: a spatial-ecological perspective of offenders in the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality
Chapter 6: A geodemographic profiler for high offender propensity areas in the city of Tshwane,
Chapter 7: Here be dragons! Spatial symbols of crime in post-apartheid
Chapter 8: Conclusion


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