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SA crime rates bounce back - but still below pre-COVID

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Rates of crime in South Australia remain below pre-pandemic levels despite a recent increase in aggravated robberies and shop thefts, new statistics show.

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SAPOL figures released this month show the total number of recorded criminal offences against people and property in South Australia has increased 12 per cent in the year up to and including April 2022 when compared to the year up to and including April 2021.

According to the data, the cumulative number of offences against people and property recorded in the “rolling year” to April 2022 stands at 111,201, up from 99,093 in the rolling year to April 2021.

The Liberal Opposition seized on the figures this week to say South Australia was experiencing an “enormous jump in crime”, issuing a media release highlighting the 35 per cent increase in aggravated robberies, 31 per cent increase in shop thefts and 18 per cent increase in serious criminal trespass.

“We’re seeing crime rates jump in South Australia, but Labor isn’t boosting SAPOL’s resources to match that concerning trend,” shadow police spokesperson Tim Whetstone said in a statement on Monday. 

“We need as many officers on the frontline as possible because the crime trend shows that’s where they’re needed right now.”

But the full statistics paint a much more complex picture, with SA Police saying the latest data represents a return to pre-COVID crime levels.

“The current increases in recorded crime, most notably Offences Against Property, largely reflect a return to the pre-COVID level of recorded crime prior to COVID related community-based restrictions, which included restricted community activity and a reduction in business operations,” SAPOL noted in the data.

According to the monthly figures, the number of offences against property increased 14 per cent from the April 2021 rolling year to the April 2022 rolling year, with the total number rising from 76,523 to 87,483.

But that is still well down on the 101,108 offences against property recorded in the rolling year to April 2020, a period which takes in 10 months before COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in South Australia.

Police commissioner Grant Stevens said any discussion of crime statistics needs to consider pre-COVID-19 figures.

“During the course of two and a half years that we’ve been dealing with COVID, we did see a reduction in crime – a dramatic reduction in crime,” he told reporters on Monday.

“We are now seeing increases where you compare them against last year it’s not an accurate reflection of exactly what the true situation of criminal activity in South Australia is.

“If you took them back further, you might see some increases in certain categories, but it wouldn’t seem to be as dramatic as what you look at going back just one year when we were right in that COVID response and there was a lot of suppressed activity in South Australia.”

The monthly figures also show the total number of “offences against the person” – which includes homicide, assault, sexual assault, and robbery – has increased five per cent for the rolling year to April 2022 compared to April 2021.

There are 16 categories of “offences against the person” listed by SAPOL. Of those, 10 have recorded a decrease in crime rates, one is at the same level, while five have increased.

Murder recorded the biggest decrease (29 per cent) from rolling year to year, although this category has a much smaller sample size than other offences making it more susceptible to large year-to-year fluctuations.

There were 10 murders in SA recorded for the rolling year to April 2022, down from 14 at the same point in 2021.

“Other acts intended to cause injury” recorded the next biggest rolling year decrease (17 per cent), followed by:

Conversely, of the five crime categories to see an increase in offending, common assault recorded the biggest uptick (82 per cent), but SA Police emphasises this outlier is primarily due to a “historical refinement to SAPOL reporting processes” rather than an increase in offending.

Blackmail and extortion has increased 56 per cent, up from 73 offences last rolling year to 114, while aggravated robbery increased 35 per cent, up from 334 offences to 451.

The most significant increase in crime rates comes in the offences against property section, which includes shop thefts, car thefts, home invasions, property damage and fraud.

Of the 13 crime categories listed in that section, nine have seen a rolling year increase in offence rates while only four have decreased.

The highest recorded increases were in the categories of:

On the flip side, the offences against property section also shows a 17 per cent rolling year-on-year drop for “property damage by fire or explosion” as well as “other fraud, deception and related offences”.

“Receive or handle proceeds of crime” has also decreased 14 per cent while graffiti offences have decreased 11 per cent.

Police Minister Joe Szakacs said SA Police is projecting the final data for financial year 2021/22 will see total offences against people and property down 2.3 per cent compared to 2018/19 – the last full year without COVID-19 restrictions.

“The Liberal Party’s disingenuous crime statistics are misleading and don’t take into account the significant impact that COVID movement restrictions have had on reported crime,” Szakacs said in a statement.

“South Australia is projected to have a 2.3 per cent reduction in property and person offences compared to the last full year not affected by COVID in 2018-19.”

The debate over crime data comes amid ongoing concerns about police resourcing and recruitment difficulties within the force.

Police commissioner Stevens revealed on Monday that SAPOL has cancelled three cadet training courses – equivalent to around 90 new positions – due to struggles recruiting new officers.

The Opposition has also raised concerns about the future of 168 contracted Protective Security Officers for which there is currently no provision in the State Budget.

“SAPOL officers are crying out for help and Labor’s only solution is a massive resource cut,” Whetstone said.

“We’ve known for months that SAPOL is under immense staff shortage pressure. So why hasn’t Labor stepped up and provided the resources needed to boost frontline services and protect South Australians?”

Szakacs said a “Premier’s Taskforce” was being established to provide recommendations on increasing police numbers.

He told reporters on Monday that “all resourcing models are on the table” and the taskforce would hand down recommendations before the protective security officers contracts expire later this year.

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