Despite South African crime rates (including homicide) are among the world's top, no comprehensive estimation of criminal costs is being attempted thus far. The increasing attention to estimates of crime-related disability adjusted life years (DALYs) is welcome but we show by estimating the cost of multiple offenses in South Africa (from housebreaking to personal, vehicle and cattle theft, among others) that concentrating the measurement of criminal costs on few items may mislead policy choices. In fact, DALYs associated costs represent less than a quarter of total crime costs after including other medical, institutional, private security, economic costs and transfers (totalling 7.8% of GDP). We conclude that estimating the burden of crime is interesting in itself, but from a policy point of view it is the distribution of this burden across crime categories and cost items that matters. Not only policy making against crime must be evidence-based, but also the generation of information on crime must be also consistent with policy options shown to be effective. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.