SAPS channels funds towards disputed gunshot tech

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is going heavy on using technology as part of its crime prevention and combating strategy.

A significant part of its budget has been allocated to the deployment of controversial gunshot detection technology, surveillance drones and the licensing of drone pilots.

This comes as the SAPS looks to implement a proposed drone deployment model, which will make use of drones across the country to crack down on crime.

This was the word from police minister Bheki Cele, releasing the fourth quarter crime statistics in Cape Town yesterday.

According to Cele, while some crimes − such as armed robberies, hijackings and murder − remain on the increase, the decision to expand visible policing through provincial intelligence-led operations is showing signs of improvement in certain crime categories, like rape.

The improvement of police visibility will remain its strongest arsenal, having allocated R1.8 billion for the procurement of all types of police vehicles, drones and the training of drone pilots, he pointed out.

“Interrogating the crime figures we are releasing today, it is unmistakable that the decision to upscale visible policing and disruptive operations from Thursdays to Mondays in all provinces is working.

“The SAPS is also purchasing unmanned aerial vehicles to better police from the sky. More drone pilots are being licensed and drone pilot interns are being recruited. Body-worn cameras as well as ShotSpotters in high-density crime areas are being prioritised.”

According to Cele, murder went up by 3.4% from January to March, with 6 200 cases, while cash-in-transit robberies increased by 20.8%, to 64 incidents.

Hijackings saw a 6.5% increase, with 435 cases reported in the same period.

Police minister Bheki Cele.
Police minister Bheki Cele.

ShotSpotters is a crime-fighting initiative initially introduced in 2016, at a cost of R32 million. It became the subject of debate in 2021, when critics questioned its efficacy in its goal of eliminating gangsterism and violence in the crime hotspot areas of Hanover Park and Manenberg, where it was deployed for three years.

In December, the City of Cape Town introduced a second phase of the controversial gunshot detection initiative, to combat the escalating gunshot incidents in further crime hotspot areas in the city.

The initiative is a collaboration between the Law Enforcement Advancement Project, SAPS and Metro Police.

It uses ShotSpotter, a US-developed acoustic gunshot detection system that alerts law enforcement authorities of gunfire incidents as soon as they happen.

When used with CCTV cameras, aerial surveillance technology and sensors placed in different parts of the city, the system is able to identify and pinpoint the exact location of a gunshot and suspects, during a shooting incident.

The African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis and opposition legislators previously criticised the technology, noting the body count from gun violence in the city shows it has not been effective in reducing crime.

Despite this, Cele noted a share of the budget would be allocated to the gunshot detection initiative. While he did not say if it would be rolled out throughout the country, the City of Cape Town is going ahead with the project, after renewing its contract with ShotSpotter in December.

“Over and above this additional funding, we are responding directly to calls by communities to increase the capability and training of the Tactical Response Teams. These highly-trained and highly-skilled officers will act as force multipliers at local level and assist in policing high-crime areas,” he explained.

The SAPS has for a while been on a journey to prioritise strengthening its crime-fighting efforts, supported by technology-driven solutions, including in-vehicle surveillance tech to address the issue of safety and security, particularly in the key metros.

In terms of the deployment of drones, Cele last June told Parliament the SAPS is purchasing drones to be used as part of policing, including in rural areas, as per the implementation requirements of the Rural Safety Strategy.

“The SAPS is in the process of acquiring 166 drones, in three phases, for use in various policing environments,” the minister said at the time.

“The current proposed model for drone deployment in three phases will include 43 localities, which are specialised units – Provincial Operational Command Centres, District Operational Command Centres and Safer City Projects – with satellite drone units serving various police stations. The Rural Safety Committees at police station and district levels will include the utilisation of drones in their rural safety plans.”

While providing the latest crime stats this week, Cele also touched on the recent gazetting of a five-year “certificate of exemption”, under the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act.

The move, which gives SAPS the authority to intercept cellular communications for mass-surveillance purposes, will help combat cash-in-transit crime, he said.

“We are encouraged that the newly-legislated surveillance device technology will make sweeping changes in this crime trend and other organised crimes.” 

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