Durban communities turn to high-tech number plate cameras to fight crime

Durban communities turn to high-tech number plate cameras to fight crime
Durban- At a cost of R35 000 per camera, the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system is not cheap, but a number of Durban suburbs have decided that stopping crime before it occurs is worth the price.

Even areas which are new to the system, which is linked to the SAPS, have reported benefiting from its capabilities.

Kevin Scheinberg, patrol captain of the New Germany Neighbourhood Watch, west of Durban, said installing the electronic security system had been in the pipeline since 2017.

He added that, with the opening of Dumisani Makhaye Drive, they had noticed crime trends - such as the road being used by criminals to make their getaway.

Scheinberg said private security company LAD had offered to cover the monthly operational fees of about R1100 if the community funded the project. The community had raised more than R75000, which funded the installation of one camera last month and another this month.

He said it was an expensive project but they had found it was worth the price.

Vehicles flagged on the cameras as “suspicious” were stopped and had been found to have been involved in crimes like hijackings, at which point the police would respond quickly.

“It’s an advantage and patrollers are safe because they keep an eye on the car until the SAPS are on the scene to take over,” Scheinberg said.

He said although they were tackling serious crimes, like hijackings and home invasions, petty crimes, such as the theft of gate batteries, were still prevalent in the area.

Manors, Gillitts and Assagay were also investing in the system.

Private security company Marshall Security has used the cameras, in the north of Durban, since January 2017.

Many arrests have been made and crimes prevented from taking place since the system went online, said director Tyron Powell. He felt that using the system was a good way to be proactive in the fight against crime.

“We have 28 cameras in the north Durban area and we install two or three new ones a month,” Powell said.

“We have made about 60 arrests, ranging from the theft of motor vehicles to housebreaking and robbery.

“We have recovered about 38 vehicles just in our area of service.”

Powell said it had invested more than R400000 in cameras, while the community and community policing forums had sponsored more.

He said the company had looked at the system about seven years ago, but it was too expensive then.

However, a reduction in the cost of the hardware had made it more affordable to communities in later years and the company installed its first two cameras on a trial basis, in 2016 and early 2017, which saw it make a number of arrests in the first three months.

Durban North and uMhlanga Community Policing Forum chairperson Haden Searles praised the system, saying it had been an extra tool for security companies and the authorities in the fight against crime.

“Security companies are having a lot of success, especially in serious cases like murders. Numerous vehicles have been recovered,” he said, adding that the system had also helped to clear those suspected of crime but who were innocent.

He said vehicles which were flagged and were in the system can be suspended and re-added.

One of the reasons being false information making its way into the system, like through the cloning of plates.

Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said the camera system can immediately determine the particulars linked to a number plate, including the registered owner, because it is connected to the official registration number system.

“If police are in search of a suspect in a robbery, it is picked up by the system. It can also be used in crime combating and prevention,” Burger said.