A Call For Backup: How Technology Can Aid In Fighting Against Crime
South African citizens rate crime as one of their primary concerns, second only to unemployment. 1 While our country faces complex challenges in this regard, technology offers a number of valuable solutions. From intelligent policing to e-court models, digitalisation is key to developing smarter, transparent and effective law enforcement systems. Armed with the right digital tools and innovative thinking, government can work towards creating a safer South Africa for all.
A force for good
As crime evolves so policing needs to evolve too. In his foreword in the latest SAPS Annual
Performance Plan, Minister of Police General Bheki Cele acknowledged that “of critical
importance is the aspiration to see a modernised SAPS that is technologically equipped and
technologically capable…” 2
Currently police departments are ‘handcuffed’ by a shortage of resources and fragmented, manual systems that lead to backlogs, errors and delays. While investments into e-dockets have been made, implementing a comprehensive digital transformation strategy will optimise processes and strengthen the future of the force.
Policing is a high-risk vocation and in the field, a lack of connectivity can leave officers vulnerable and unable to react timeously to unpredictable situations. The right digital tools can help safeguard officers and the communities they serve, while also supporting day-to-day law enforcement duties.
One example of an ‘ordinary’ digital tool with extraordinary potential is the mobile app. Convenient and accessible, mobile apps can act as a police information hub or a valuable form of community engagement. Building a better relationship with citizens is important for any public service department. Mobile platforms can encourage meaningful dialogue, share safety updates, boost transparency and the perception of police presence, and allow vigilant citizens to send tip-offs.
Wearable tech is a fast growing trend in the field of crime prevention. From smart watches to built-in cameras, body-worn tech linked to CAD can provide officers with life-saving information. Discreet alerts, access to maps and real-time geolocation of fellow officers enable a heightened awareness of the environment. Biometrics and instant access to suspect data equip officers with immediate, on-the-ground knowledge. Body-cams also capture evidence and promote officer accountability and safety. Sensors monitor stress levels, hit detection or sudden pursuits, sending an automated call for backup. These smart devices can be connected to National Operation Centre (NOC) linked to a vehicles as satellite offices, acting as vital communication control units.
Taking a quick step back to before the scene of a crime, how do officers ensure they’re at the right place at the right time? This is where AI and machine learning can play a significant role. Advanced data analytics can be used to pick up patterns and clues, alerting officers to possible hotspots and assisting in investigations.
The rise of Industry 4.0 has led to a rise in more sophisticated cyber criminals who can only be countered with equally-sophisticated technology. Data analytics, biometric scans and digital forensics can aid in solving cybercrime, while advanced cyber security software ensures that sensitive case information stored in the cloud remains safe and confidential.
Globally, there is a move towards online courts and an e-justice system that is faster, fairer, more cost-effective and accessible.
Shifts to e-filing, digital court records and automation alleviate civil servants from the burden of paperwork and can help reduce costly delays for those seeking justice. Online case management ensures cases can be well tracked and that all interested parties can easily monitor progress. Implementing court scheduling systems and e-payment methods speed up processes, empower citizens and make it easier for them to comply.
From remote testimony to virtual courts, advances in video technology open up new possibilities and are particularly pertinent given the challenges posed by the current pandemic.
At the heart of the smart court revolution is the cloud: a single, secure, online portal for integrated operations, improved accessibility and sustainable data storage.
By taking ownership of these innovative solutions, the South African justice department can begin to overcome legacy challenges and construct a more transparent, connected and efficient legal system that caters to the needs of modern citizens.
A successful conviction is not the end of the story but the beginning of a new one for the correctional department. Closing a case opens a separate set of challenges for law enforcement ranging from prison safety and operations to effective rehabilitation.
South Africa’s correctional facilities experience similar obstacles to their police and court counterparts in terms of legacy systems, physical records and manual processes. One solution is automated offender files which can easily be accessed, reduce paperwork and enable instant assessments of inmate risks and needs. Sensors and wearable trackers are redefining surveillance – providing real-time visibility and improving the safety of both officers and inmates.
An important aspect of correctional services often overlooked is the process of rehabilitation. Here digital tools such as e-learning and video conferencing can be used to help foster positive behaviour, prepare prisoners for release into modern society and work to prevent the cycle of re-incarceration. Telehealth also offers solutions to assisting prisoners with their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Innovation for a safer nation
When it comes to public safety there is no quick fix and the solutions are by no means simple. However, technology can become a powerful ally in creating more effective, modern methods of crime prevention. From a hyper-connected police force to digital courts and intelligent corrections, the future of law enforcement holds opportunities for progress and positive change. The right digital strategies and innovative thinking can propel South Africa forward on the journey to building integrated public safety systems that provide empowered citizens with access to protection and justice.
1 Citizen Survey, Momentum Investments, 2018
2 Annual Performance Plan, South African Police Service 2020/2021.