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Durban police roll out ‘robocars’ to beat festive season crime

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KWAZULU NATAL, South Africa – Durban’s metro police have partnered Microsoft to take crime-fighting to a new level by using technology to their advantage.

Three new police cars will be rolled out for KwaZulu-Natal’s economic hub during the festive period in an effort to combat vehicle theft, unpaid fines and outstanding warrants.

Speaking at the State IT Agency (Sita) GovTech conference at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban on Wednesday, eThekwini metro police spokesperson Parboo Sewpersadh said the partnership with Microsoft formed part of its Safer Cities initiative.

“These cars will be deployed to areas, identified by the city, to tackle crime and grime in the city itself,” he said.

Each vehicle has been fitted with:

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  • Two front cameras, for a full 180-degree view of the front of the vehicle for evidence-gathering;
  • A monitor inside the vehicle that will signal either green or red, depending on whether or not a vehicle is wanted for an offence;
  • An automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera, which has 360-degree ability and can scan number plates on multiple vehicles up to speeds of 240km/h and flag these vehicles if they have been stolen, or have unpaid fines or outstanding warrants;
  • A facial recognition camera, which can either be fitted on to a tripod or a stationary vehicle, to scan a person’s face, which will then be entered into a database for intelligence; and
  • Onboard Wi-Fi with a range of 50m, built into the vehicle so that members can download and receive data as and when they need.

Metro police members will also be kitted out with hi-tech body cameras and be armed with taser guns.

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“The body cameras will be set to record while officers are on duty. The footage will form part of evidence to be provided to the National Prosecuting Authority to secure convictions. As the camera records, it simultaneously feeds this footage to an onboard network video recorder (NVR), so if anything happens to the camera or the officer, the footage can still be accessed,” explained Sewpersadh.

Sandile Mahlaba of Microsoft said the most important aspect of the partnership was to reduce crime by enabling the city to use technology to collect data.

“We want to use the investment we have already done in Microsoft to create capabilities for police to be able to work with technology and be able to be efficient in the way they use this data they collect,” he said, adding that criminals driving around in stolen vehicles were a major concern for police.

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