Cape criminals have no place to hide with launch of ‘Eye in the Sky’

Tthe City’s sheriff, JP Smith, is set to launch the country’s first “Eye in the Sky” which will monitor all incidents across the Mother City. Picture: Supplied

Tthe City’s sheriff, JP Smith, is set to launch the country’s first “Eye in the Sky” which will monitor all incidents across the Mother City. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 1, 2024


Cape Town - Criminals in Cape Town will soon have no place to hide as the City’s sheriff, JP Smith, is set to launch the country’s first “Eye in the Sky” plane, which will monitor all incidents across the Metro.

The private hangar near the Cape Town International Airport buzzed with excitement this week as high-ranking officials got a first look at the new plane that has been fitted with a state-of-the-art camera which monitors incidents in real-time, providing intel to law enforcement agencies.

After nearly three years of hard work, the tender had been approved and officials will now undergo training as the project is rolled out.

In an exclusive interview with the Cape Argus, Smith said they were investing in high-tech projects to aid officers on the ground to tackle various incidents and crimes ranging from fires on the mountain slopes to chasing down poachers at sea.

The camera, known as the Argos II, was developed by a German company, Hensoldt, which specialises in developing military surveillance products.

Smith said in South Africa the technology was still new, while police departments in other major leading cities used similar technology as standard practice for data collection and fighting crime.

With exceptional zoom abilities, the camera pod houses a number of hi-tech cameras aimed at addressing various needs as they arise.

“Eye in the Sky” plane monitors incident in real time, providing intel to law enforcement agencies. Picture: Mahira Duval

He said they were first introduced to the technology several years ago during the Vredehoek fires where spotter planes were unable to get visualisation of flare-ups through the thick haze which hung over the City Bowl.

With the use of the camera, officials were able to locate flare-ups and dispatch firefighters accordingly.

Smith said helicopters were extremely expensive to run and many municipalities explored these options.

“But there is something else we can do, and that is the option of a very small and affordable plane to get airborne and a powerful camera rig that will allow us to do anti-poaching operations, anti-gang operations, traffic management, managing fire incidents, cash-in-transit heists or any other type of incident where you need rapid eyes on an area.”

The system, which functions in all weather conditions and at any time of the day, has been tested on both drag racers and gang shootings to date.

Smith said during a test in Mitchells Plain, the plane zoomed in on a group of drag racers while officers watched closely and identified various vehicles and drivers.

The camera, known as the Argos II, has exceptional zoom abilities. Picture: Mahira Duval

He said as opposed to confronting the racers, who normally fled when cops arrived, officers instead calmly followed one of the racers and pounced on him as he arrived at his home.

“The look on his face was precious. This system helps us better deploy our resources as well and get targeted arrests with objective evidence in the form of video footage.”

Smith said the system would be used alongside ShotSpotter in communities affected by gun violence and was aimed at tackling gang strongholds.

“With this technology, we can zoom in on gunmen during a shooting and actively track them. When officers respond to shootings, they always run away, and finding them can sometimes prove difficult.

“Now you can actively monitor a shooter running away from the crime scene and wait until he goes home or to wherever the firearms are hidden, and possibly recover more firearms than before.

“Due to the camera’s abilities where it can zoom in for many kilometres, the plane does not need to hover over a certain community at a specific time. They will never know when it is airborne.”

Smith explained it would cost the municipality around R60 000 to keep the plane airborne for an hour, but said it would only be used when the need was identified. He said the tender was capped at just over R100 million.

In addition to fighting crime, the technology will also zoom in on land invasions by actively recording the erection of structures.

“It will help us to gather the evidence of what was there yesterday and what is there today for when we go to court,” Smith said.

“It is going to professionalise many of our operations and is going to give us an important tactical edge and we will share this with SAPS and the Hawks.

“They are already excited about the possibilities that arise.”

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Cape Argus