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How safe is your neighbourhood? News24 launches a crime checking app

Johannesburg

Buying a house? News24 is launching an app designed to help South Africans understand their risk in becoming a victim in their areas.

CrimeCheck has been built over several months, involving the processing of hundreds of thousands of official crime statistic records from 1 158 policing precincts between 2017 and 2022 which will continue to be updated when crime data is released each quarter.

This is a unique data journalism tool that we have developed for News24’s readers to be informed about crime in their neighbourhoods, or when they plan to relocate,” says Adriaan Basson, News24’s editor-in-chief.

The app provides a gauge of risk on a series of crime indices as well as on several individual crimes like murder and burglary. It also provides detail of each of the more than 50 crime types in every precinct which are reflected in South African Police Service’s (SAPS) data.

The engine of the CrimeCheck risk gauge is the rate of crime per 1 000 people in a police precinct or the rate of crime per 1 000 households in a precinct. The challenge is that South Africa’s police precinct boundaries do not match any other geographic boundaries like suburbs, wards, or towns, so there are no readily available population numbers for precincts.

Working with a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping expert and starting with the last available census in 2011, News24 has been able to calculate populations and household estimates for every precinct for each year in its dataset by also drawing on annual district-level population estimates provided by StatisticsSA.

These figures are then used to calculate the crime rate for various categories or crime types in each precinct. From these rates, News24 used a statistical normalisation technique to derive a value between zero and one for each category and precinct which allows the precincts to be compared to each other and compared from year to year. This is the value which powers the risk gauge for each precinct.

Using this view of crime data, CrimeCheck surfaces some alarming insights like precincts where the risk of dying violently is arguable greater than for a civilian living in a war zone and many precincts are higher risk than one might think with others lower despite perceptions that they are dangerous.

CrimeCheck also includes a page where the daily average of each crime type for every year and for the currently available year is calculated. This is useful because it can be difficult to understand if the year which is unfolding is worse or better than previous years. The daily average provides that insight.

Finally, the user is also able to compare up to three precincts side by side. This could be useful if they are researching neighbourhoods they are planning to move to or to buy a property.