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Cape Town to roll out a number of technologies to combat crime

28th July 2023

By: Irma Venter

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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The City of Cape Town will this year introduce a number of new technologies to combat crime.

Some of these technologies may be familiar, such as drones and body cameras, with other perhaps less known, such as automated number plate recognition (ANPR).

City of Cape Town Safety and Security MMC JP Smith says it is no secret that Cape Town has its hands full with gun- and drug- related incidents, among other crimes.

“Reducing rates of crime associated with these challenges are a priority.

“We are confident that technology can play an incredibly useful role in this regard.”

The new technologies to be deployed will be made available within the city’s three enforcement agencies, namely the Traffic Service, the Metro Police Department and the Law Enforcement Department.

“All of the technologies will be rolled out incrementally, as part of a carefully developed strategy,” says Smith.

“Implementation is only one aspect of ensuring these technologies are utilised effectively,” he adds. “The people, processes and the resultant data are also critical in ensuring success.”

Smith also emphasises that the use of technology is designed to amplify the city’s already existing enforcement and emergency efforts.

“While the city, with the assistance of the provincial government, has made strides with the expansion of its Law Enforcement Advancement Plan, technology-aided ‘smart’ policing is the way of the future.

“As a human-resource multiplier, these technologies are designed to aid the officers in their duties and to protect them as they serve the citizens of Cape Town.

“The data created by these technologies is key in allowing staff to make the correct decision to focus limited resources where they are most needed and where they can make the biggest impact.”

Smith says the city has not set a specific target for crime reduction through the use of these new tools.

“No specific targets have been set – not until such time as the various pieces of technology have been rolled out on a wide scale.”

What is ANPR?
ANPR software allows a camera to scan a vehicle’s number plate while it is in motion.

The system can then determine, through a connected device, such as a tablet, whether there are any outstanding fines and/or warrants linked to that number plate; whether the number plate is valid in relation to the specific vehicle; whether it might have been cloned or duplicated; and whether the vehicle might have been reported as stolen.

The City of Cape Town already has CCTV cameras fitted with the software, while the technology was also piloted in some of the city’s vehicles last year as dashboard-mounted devices.

“We do have fixed locations where ANPR cameras are deployed, which we use for crime prevention and the detection of vehicles involved in criminal activity,” says Smith.

In the current financial year, the technology will be rolled out to more of the city’s enforcement vehicles.

This will allow officers to detect any irregularities while they are driving around the city, while it will also help them to be more targeted in terms of which vehicles to pull over, as opposed to executing random stops, says Smith.

Gunshot Detection
Real-time gunshot detection can determine the exact location and number of gunshots.

When a shot is fired, the weapon emits sound waves. Gunshot detection technology uses acoustic triangulation – a deduction based on the speed of sound – in conjunction with GPS, to locate the shot.

This is recorded and relayed with location information to the City of Cape Town’s dispatch centre, where it shows as a red dot on a high-resolution on-screen map.

Using proprietary algorithms, the system can also determine if the shot is coming from a moving vehicle, as well as the direction of travel, explains Smith.

This information is fed directly to law enforcement agencies and emergency services for immediate response.

Gunshot detection technology can also be used as evidence in court.

“Within a minute of a weapon being discharged, the police can be deployed to the area with tactical knowledge of how many shots were fired, the approximate location of the discharged weapon, and a good idea of what type of weapon they are facing,” says Smith.

The City of Cape Town has enhanced the gunshot detection technology – SoundThinking, in this case – by integrating it with the city’s Emergency Policing Incident Command (EPIC) platform to automatically create what is called EPIC service requests.

EPIC uses various platforms to assist with crime pattern analysis and information gathering.

An EPIC service request is an electronic incident record that is sent to individual departments in order for them to dispatch resources and manage the incident correctly.

All the information pertaining to the incident, including the outcome and evidence of the incident, is uploaded on to the electronic service request.

Acoustic gunshot detection systems went live in Hanover Park in December, Manenberg in February, and most recently in Lavender Hill in March.

About 35 firearms and 400 rounds of ammunition have already been taken off the streets, resulting in 50 arrests, says Smith.

Body Cameras
Body-worn cameras, or body cams, as they are more popularly known, will soon be carried by Cape Town’s law enforcement officers around their chest area, similar to those the public might have seen in movies, or on television.

The aim of these devices is to enhance officer safety by increasing situational awareness, through live streaming, while they will also serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators, says Smith.

They also act as a safeguard for the public and city staff, particularly in situations where claims are made against staff, thereby assisting in maintaining transparency and accountability, thanks to independent footage, says Smith.

The footage acquired from in-vehicle dashcams, also to be rolled out, as well as body cams, will all be used for prosecution purposes.

Body cams have been well utilised internationally for many years already, with academic studies proving their effectiveness in the public safety landscape, notes Smith.

“We have engaged extensively with international public safety experts through workshops, webinars and other engagements to learn from them in deploying this technology.”

Both in-vehicle and body cams will be used by the city’s three enforcement agencies to begin with, with the opportunity to expand their use to Fire & Rescue and Disaster Risk Management in the future, notes Smith.

Cape Town’s Safety and Security Directorate hosted representatives of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in May, with the purpose, among other goals, to tap into their knowledge on the use of this technology, as well as the lessons learned from the use of body cams and dashcams.

Guests included representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia, both in the US.

“Drones can be used to assess large areas at speed, whether for enforcement or emergency purposes, which then helps us to direct our efforts appropriately,” says Smith.

“We have already seen some success in using this technology during illegal street racing and tracking down suspects, but also when assessing areas affected by fire or other disasters, like the recent floods that affected Cape Town.”

The city already has access to registered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as well as registered pilots, and will soon have its own dedicated aviation unit.

The city’s new aviation unit will employ dedicated staff with customised vehicles to address the demand of the city’s Safety and Security Directorate, says Smith.

A vital next step is to obtain a remote operating certificate (ROC), with the expectation that this should be approved during the current financial year, which started on July 1.

A ROC is a requirement by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for any commercial and/or government entity that wishes to fly drones.

In addition, each pilot must hold a remote pilot licence and each drone must be registered with the CAA.

While currently making use of a third-party service provider, the city’s staff are undergoing training and familiarisation with the processes and requirements regarding operating drones, notes Smith.

“Additional training will also be required around the use of digital evidence, as well as the situational awareness created by the use of this technology.

“The city is also engaging with other registered agencies around how they have structured their operations.”

In general terms, the large amount of digital data and evidence that will be created by all the new technologies will require a fresh skill set in terms of training existing staff, as well as hiring new staff.

These will include digital evidence analysts, situational awareness experts and other technology-specific positions.

Smith says that the City’s Fire & Rescue Service and the Disaster Risk Management Centre will have access to the city’s UAVs for use during major incidents.

But What Will It Cost?
Most South Africans are familiar with CCTV, or closed-circuit television, with this technology already rolled out across Cape Town.

However, the city is set to acquire new and additional CCTV cameras throughout the 2023/24 financial year, at a cost of R34-million.

The Metro Police Strategic Surveillance Unit currently manages 900 cameras across the city, with 170 additional cameras added in the previous financial year.

A minimum of 50 a year will be added over the next three to four years, says Smith.

Gunfire detection technology will soon be rolled out in Nyanga, with the budget related to this technology at R10-million for the current financial year.

Body cams, in-vehicle cameras, ANPR, and an associated digital evidence management solution, will be procured at a cost of R26-million this financial year.

As for drones, R4-million has been allocated for flight hours via a service provider, and an additional R5-million for the necessary hardware and software for the city’s own drone unit.

The body cams, in-vehicle cameras, ANPR and digital evidence management solution have been procured under tender, and awarded to a South African service provider, says Smith.

“These international technologies have been customised and configured to our local context and needs.”

Smith says the Safety and Security Directorate has developed a detailed technology roadmap that is guiding the procurement and implementation of all new technologies.

“Other technologies that are being investigated include more advanced analytics, simulation and training technologies, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, biometric integrations and advanced geographic information system tools.”

Within the budget for the 2023/24 financial year, it is envisioned that the Safety and Security Directorate will procure 400 body cams, 50 dashcams and 20 mobile cameras.

More Police Power To Cape Town?
The South African Police Service (SAPS) falls under the management of national government, and not the City of Cape Town.

However, Cape Town has been vocal in insisting that more powers should be devolved to the city’s enforcement agencies in the light of surging crime rates in South Africa.

“The city is confident that, with more policing powers, particularly to investigate crime, it can help SAPS by building prosecution-ready case dockets on gang, gun, and drug crimes,” says Smith.

“This can be achieved through a declaration from the Justice Minister under the Criminal Procedure Act, as was already done to an extent in 2018.

“The city is also calling for a simple amendment to the SAPS Act, to expand the definition of ‘criminal investigation’ to include municipal law enforcement.

“Thus far, our requests to the President and relevant Ministers have gone unanswered. However, the city will continue to lobby for a devolution of these powers.”

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor




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