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Tech helps Cape Town detect cloned number plates

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The City of Cape Town's traffic service has turned to automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to boost its law enforcement efforts.

In a statement, the city says traffic officers have access to the ANPR system in some of their vehicles, allowing them to scan the licence plates of vehicles around them while in transit.

Furthermore, they use handheld devices linked to an application to allow them to expedite the issuing of fines by collating the information electronically, notes the city.

Alderman JP Smith, Cape Town's mayoral committee member for safety and security, states: “These ANPR-equipped vehicles mean fewer traffic stops, and focusing instead on those vehicles that are flagged by the system. It also helps with identifying cloned or duplicate licence plates − which are a growing concern − outstanding summonses and outstanding warrants.

“Many motorists have had the unfortunate experience of an administrative nightmare because someone else is using the same licence plate and racking up fines or committing crime.”

According to the statement, in the past two months, the traffic service received 445 complaints about duplicated number plates. Of these, 203 cases have been finalised, with the remainder (242) still under investigation.

Adds Smith: “The ANPR technology allows us to detect whether the licence plate matches the vehicle, and if not, officers are able to stop the driver, escort the vehicle to the traffic department, and investigate the circumstances to determine whether it is an accidental duplication of plates, or something more sinister.”

Over the past few years, the city has been vocal about adopting an intelligence-driven policing approach. In 2016, the city’s Safety and Security Directorate announced plans to set aside R14 million to invest in ANPR technology.

ANPR technology uses optical character recognition on images to read vehicle registration plates. It is used by police services around the world for law enforcement purposes.

It can also be used for electronic toll collection on pay-per-use roads, as well as a way of monitoring the movement of traffic by highway agencies.

The city notes that for the period 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021, officers recorded more than 2.6 million offences.

“Sadly, many of the fines for these offences go unpaid for various reasons, which in turn results in large numbers of warrants of arrest. Technology like the ANPR is useful in tracking down scofflaws. We have a culture of non-payment and disregard for law and order, and holding people accountable for their actions is one way of ensuring improved behaviour on our roads, and saving lives,” comments Smith.

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