Cape Town’s crime fight takes to the skies

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 07 May 2024
Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis was on hand to observe the demonstration of the new crime-fighting aerial surveillance technology.
Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis was on hand to observe the demonstration of the new crime-fighting aerial surveillance technology.

To further enhance itstech-driven crime fight, the City of Cape Town has deployed aerial surveillance technology in the form of a Cessna 337 aircraft, dubbed the ‘eye-in-the-sky’.

This forms part of the city’s multimillion-rand investment in various safety tech over three years, with R200 million earmarked for this current financial year.

The eye-in-the-sky aircraft is piloted by trained and experienced professionals. It can fly higher than a drone and is fitted with infrared cameras, to register the heat resonating from a recently fired firearm, body heat in cold water, or even the wheels of a speeding vehicle, says the city.

The new crime-fighting effort was demonstrated as part of a staged search, rescue and car chase scenario on Monday, with premier Alan Winde, mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and safety and security mayoral committee member alderman JP Smith on hand to observe.

According to the city, the information, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system in the aircraft provides high-definition aerial imagery for smarter policing operations.

The information-gathering will aid the fight against gang incidents, poaching, stolen vehicles, vegetation fires and various criminal activities, it states.

In addition, the city is looking to the technology to help in other instances beyond enforcement, including the monitoring of high voltage lines, vandalism of vital infrastructure, coastal impact and biodiversity-related issues.

“I am impressed by the eye-in-the-sky’s crime-fighting capability, which will give the edge to our 1 300 new officers we have deployed via the LEAP partnership between the Western Cape government and the city,” says Winde.

“This demonstration showed how the city is able to carry out a search, rescue and chase operation using integrated technology, from aerial surveillance, to bodycams on officers, and licence-plate recognition cameras along highways. This is a big step towards smarter policing, where technology is better utilised.”

Over the past few years, Cape Town has been vocal about adopting an intelligence-driven policing approach, introducing numerous technological advancements.

In 2021, the city revealed its investment in its CCTV surveillance cameras were making good gains, detecting over 15 000 criminal incidents in the previous (2020) financial year.

Last year, Cape Town's leadership announced that some 800 law enforcement officers will be kitted out with bodycams, with a further 290 in-vehicle cameras with automated number plate recognition technology − commonly known as dashcams − installed during the financial year.

Hill-Lewis has welcomed the future of crime fighting in Cape Town, saying the eye-in-the-sky will be used alongside other tech solutions the city is investing in, including drones, dashcams, bodycams, gunshot detection, licence-plate recognition cameras and EPIC − the master digital coordination systems for all city crime prevention.

“The city is investing R610 million in various safety techs over three years, having already invested R200 million in the current financial year.

“But crucially, all of our investments cannot substitute for a well-functioning police service. That’s why we have to also keep fighting for the devolution of more policing powers, especially the power for our officers to investigate crime,” he notes.

The city’s eye-in-the-sky has already been put to work, recently recording poachers in Hout Bay and enabling a raid on the criminals at their residence nearby, according to Smith.

“Over 3 000 crayfish and a high-powered boat was seized, with the entire crime documented for prosecution,” he reveals.

“The ISR has the versatility to cover larger geographical areas, stay in the air for longer periods doing reconnaissance flights, and is less weather-dependent than drones.

“We are excited about the prospects of this secret weapon, especially in combatting drug-dealing, gun violence and gang activity. The aircraft will also assist with improving rapid response time by officers during planned operations, as precise information can be relayed.”