Making technology work in the security industry

Security of persons. Security of property

It was the hottest topic at the Drones and Unmanned Aviation Conference this year.

And of course, it had to be. As Kim James – the Drone Guards director who presented the topic along with Wayne Dawson – put it, developing economies lose out on billions of dollars’ worth of investment opportunities if their security structures are not up to standard.

And South Africa has not been a recommended case study in national safety and security; it has actually stood fast on the opposite end of the security spectrum.

Statistics released by the South African Police Service revealed that in the period between April 2019 and March 2020, contact crimes alone (sexual offences, common robbery, common assault, attempted murder and aggravated robbery) reached worrying figures of 621,282, while property-related and other serious crimes recorded 469,224 and 1,673,990 cases respectively.

To be fair, the trend for serious crimes in the country has gone down by over 200,000 cases over the last ten years; yet world reputable polling company, Gallup Group’s 2020 Law and Order Index had South as the fifth most dangerous country in the world last year, with a score of 57; behind only Afghanistan (43), Gabon (52), Venezuela (54) and Liberia (54).  

“To attract foreign investment, developing countries like South Africa need to prove that they are safe and secure,” James said. “Unfortunately, in South Africa, we cannot do that right now. Our law enforcement agencies are under-resourced; hence, they are struggling to keep the crime situation under control. Of the twenty most dangerous cities in the world, South Africa has five (Pietermaritzburg, Tshwane, Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town).”

Rising unemployment, pushed by constant lockdowns in the desperate drive to get COVID-19 cases down, will only make the situation worse, in James’ opinion.  

But a new crime fighting forum in Johannesburg is about to change all that – at least in the Gauteng capital, which was the country’s crime capital when the Johannesburg Forum on Integrated Risk Management (FIRM) came into existence in February 2019.

“The first thing we did that got the SAPS hooked faster than their sister security agencies, was that we convinced them that we were looking for a solution to the crime problem,” said Dawson, who is the current chairperson of the FIRM. “We were just not looking for a technology, because just raking up technological gadgets just for the sake of it is exactly how our efforts fail as a collective.”

According to Dawson, security stakeholders can buy all the drones in the world, for example – but as long as they have no good idea on how to correctly deploy them, the autonomous plastic and steel birds would be useless.

Rather, the way to go for FIRM was collaboration; getting all security stakeholders working together and integrating their experiences and old and new infrastructure for one common goal – crime reduction.

Of which collaboration was not a problem for the FIRM, because that is what brought the organisation to life in the first place: when the M2 Bridge was closed for repairs in the Johannesburg CBD in February, 2019, the resultant traffic jams saw motorists suffering at the hands of robbers, who took advantage of the fact that drivers were virtual sitting ducks stuck in long traffic entanglements out which they could not extricate themselves fast enough.

Kim James

In response, the big industry players in the city – ABSA, Anglo American, Anglo Gold Ashanti, Bryte SA, City Property, Excellerate Managed Services, FNB, JHB CID Forum, JMPD, Johannesburg Inner City Partnership, Johannesburg Land Company, Liberty, Local Abode, Nedbank, Old Mutual, OPH Property, SAPS, Standard Bank, SWID, Urban Space Management, Voice It In Action – came together to formulate a course of reaction.

“We had our security personnel lined up on specific routes and we made sure that they were equipped with a radio to dispatch assistance and help,” Dawson said at the time. “It was a simple model, a simple strategy, and then we started realising that we can do more. Day one for us was literally just put the bodies down there and move on that space.”

The FIRM’s response saw a significant decline in contact crime in the city, thanks to its use of data analytics to determine crime hotspots and the resources it has at its disposal – including armed response teams, widespread CCTV footage, and regular patrols through the city.

At the just-ended conference, Dawson revealed that his association was now working on a proof of concept with the South African Police Services, which could see unmanned aerial vehicles providing all-round support to ground troops in patrolling the city of Johannesburg and stay on the lookout for potential criminal activities.

“We did a proof of Concept with the SAPS, to show them how drone patrols in the city of Johannesburg can add value to reducing crime and attacks on the PSA on duty.

This concept could result in a future where private security agencies would work with members of the SAPS in their Safer City project, where drone technology could play a major role. The idea is that the city of Johannesburg would be divided into four clusters; and in each cluster, there would a complete team of security apparatuses (both digital and human) with a comprehensive understanding of the layout and design plans of the area, so they can be able to isolate crime hotspots and funnel criminals to places where they can apprehend them with no danger to the security officers and the general public at large.

Drone Guards is the drone technology partner for the FIRM, chipping in with the training of drone pilots and other important knowhow like where and when to deploy the drones in both proactive and reactive security patrols.

“In 2019, when we started, Johannesburg was crime capital of South Africa,” said Dawson. “But since the FIRM’s initiative started, they did another survey in September of the same year – and Johannesburg had dropped to seventh.

“The reason for this success was, the FIRM worked to understand its operating environment; and one of the solutions was resource optimisation. We convinced corporates that they could achieve more by being more involved in communities. So we moved into hubs where crime was concentrated, and established security personnel visibility (which was supported by technological backup).

“The solution is people, manpower, intelligence, technology – this is where the drones come in – and infrastructure working together as one unit. Collaboration is our core. Every entity that if part of the FIRM knows what they are supposed to do, how they add value and how they make in impact.”

The security ecosystem comprises regular police officers, traffic officers, private security officers, crime scene protectors, fire fighters, among other security stakeholders.

The next stage obviously is response to crime – and Dawson figures this will fundamentally change in the future. Because we are in the age of digital technology; obviously, the role of the security professional needs to change as well; from being reactive to being proactive, with the aid of the latest technology.

“We need to give to give our security people the ability to forecast what is coming down the line, and we can only do that by bringing technology together that will communicate on a single platform – drone technology, CCTV, body cameras, voice activators, working on a platform that runs on reliable internet and works well in collaboration with physical manpower.”


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