SA govt promises drones for policing ops

The South African government has revealed that it is in the process of procuring drones for the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) policing operations in rural parts of the country.

Responding to a question in parliament, Police Minister Bheki Cele said the government would purchase 166 drones to be deployed as part of the organisation’s Rural Safety Strategy.

Rural communities in South Africa struggle against law breakers in areas that include stock theft, poaching and violent farm attacks. The minister said the drones will be distributed to provincial and district operational command centres in three phases across 43 districts.

“The current proposed model for drone deployment in three phases will include 43 localities, which are specialised units – the Provincial Operational Command Centres, the District Operational Command Centres and Safer City Projects – with satellite drone units serving various police stations,” Cele said.

“The Rural Safety Committees at police station and district levels will include the utilisation of drones in their rural safety plans.”

We will keep an eye out for this one and see where it goes. The SAPS has already tried drone technology in Johannesburg, and also worked with private security partners, but have not launched sustained operations as of now.

A proof of concept involving the SAPS, drone-based security solutions company Drone Guards and the Johannesburg Forum on Integrated Risk Management (FIRM) was conducted in Johannesburg last year, but progressed has somewhat stalled on the project, which sought to use data analytics and drone technology to fight crime in the most dangerous parts of the city.

Drone Guards director Kim James has been at the forefront of the previous pilot project and she is cautiously optimistic. James is in no doubt as to the effectiveness of drone technology in policing and security operations if everything – from a strategic, training and operational standpoint – is done right.

The problem comes when people just think of how much money can be made from such project, she opined.

“Many projects like this are kicked off with the procurement of drones in the first instance, with everything else bolted on as an afterthought,” Kim said.

“Training and operational implementation needs to be done to the highest standards for the drone programme to be effective. Drones are not a silver bullet that will make all other (policing) inefficiencies go away. Integration is the key, and ground forces still need to be effective.

“Here’s hoping the drones procured are fit for purpose.

“Magic can happen when the private and government sectors join forces on the front line. Some ROC’s including ours have previously worked with the SAPS very successfully. It however does not come with immediate financial gains.”

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