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PREVIEW: What do crime statistics actually mean?

It's that time of year again when the South African Police Service (SAPS) will release its annual crime statistics and citizens will be bombarded with a range of numbers that are either up or down but, for the most part, mean very little in their everyday life.

Crime statistics have for many years been a controversial topic, from questions related to their relevance - they're released six months after the end of the reporting period and represent figures up to 18 months old - and their accuracy.

The ANC will inevitably praise the police for a job well done, while the DA will call for heads to roll.

Analysts from all sectors of society will comment on the figures relevant to them in order to, what we term in the media game, unpack them - to decipher the raw data to give them meaning.

Eyewitness News will be doing just that, but this year we've gone one step further and will be doing things a little differently.

EWN has teamed up with the University of Cape Town's Centre of Criminology, which has compiled A citizen's guide to the SAPS crime statistics. The study conducted by Chris de Kock, Anine Kriegler and Mark Shaw takes a look at 20-year crime trends, but breaks down the data into meaningful analysis.

They make the point that the study is meant to be accessible to all people - "students, non-specialist researchers, crime fighters, crime victims, journalists, policymakers, activists, and anyone else who wants to know what the crime statistics actually mean."

The study looks at two decades of data and identifies some of the key trends, most of which are positive. For example, there has been a long decline in the number of murders committed every year, decreasing by about a quarter since 2004 and by half since 1995. Other positive trends include declines in robberies, car jacking and burglary.

The academics will update the study with the latest figures as they're released at Parliament.

Log on to ewn.co.za soon after the release of the statistics to gain exclusive access to this report that will hopefully assist the public better understand what these numbers mean, and how they affect the everyday lives of South Africans.

Barry Bateman is a senior reporter at Eyewitness News . He is the co-author of Behind The Door: the Oscar and Reeva Story. Follow him on Twitter: @barrybateman