The South African Police Service (Saps) is buying a fleet of drones to help combat crime in the country, including in rural areas.
This was recently revealed in a response from police minister Bheki Cele to a question in Parliament from FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald.
Cele said 166 drones would be acquired and rolled out in three phases across 43 localities.
They will be employed by the police’s provincial and district operational command centres and Safer City Projects. Specialised satellite drone units will serve several police stations.
Rural safety committees at police stations will also use drones in their safety plans.
Although the police minister has not publicly announced the plans, The Sunday Times reports that officers are already being trained to operate the drones.
Fighting crime in South Africa using drones is not a new idea.
Private security company Fidelity has been using fixed-wing and multi-rotor drones to track criminals targeting its customers’ properties.
Fidelity Services Group CEO Wahl Bartmann said the drones had proven successful in remote areas during the early rollout. The company also started using them in residential estates with great success.
The drones track criminals using long-range thermal imagery and optical cameras, allowing operators to spot them breaching perimeters or engaging in other illegal activities.
They also act as a visual deterrent to would-be burglars and robbers, similar to guard dogs.
While the drones monitor criminals’ movements, tactical ground teams can be activated to apprehend the suspects.
Bartmann said drones had also helped identify high-risk routes and hiding places in green belts where vagrants had occupied private land and posed a risk to nearby communities.
Eskom recently started using drones to clamp down on suspected sabotage and vandalism of its infrastructure.
These units also have infrared cameras to detect saboteurs at night.
While the City of Cape Town has also procured six drones for the metro’s police department, these are still undergoing registration and licensing with the Civil Aviation Authority.
However, the city has already employed a fixed-camera CCTV system nicknamed “eye in the sky” with significant success.
The system detected more than 15,000 incidents of crime in the 2020/2021 financial year and has helped the city fight cable theft, drug-related crime, and vehicle thefts.
More recently, the system allowed law enforcement to track down and arrest 33 illegal street racers.
In Johannesburg, Vumacam has rolled out an extensive network of pole-mounted cameras powered by software that can detect anomalies and match number plates to a database of suspicious or stolen vehicles.
Vumacam has helped private security companies and metro police catch criminals and recover stolen vehicles.
In June, Vumacam announced a R60 million investment to expand its network into underserved areas like Alexandra and Soweto in support of the Eyes and Ears Initiative (E2).
E2 is a joint crime-fighting initiative between the South African Police Service, Business Against Crime South Africa, and the private security industry.