Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) technology working for Observatory

The OBSID Observatory Improvement District (OBSID) has intensified its public safety programme with the introduction of a Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) system. The technology is geared towards disrupting potential criminal activity by identifying and recognising vehicles suspected of being involved in crimes when they are in the area. It assists the SAPS and law enforcement in locating vehicles suspected or confirmed of being involved in crime.

Amanda Kirk, CEO of the OBSID says: “LPR is not an ‘iron dome’ defence system and won’t stop cars from entering and exiting. It still relies on human interaction with the system – in analysing alerts, coordinating responses and following up on incidents.”

Earlier this year, the OBSID expanded its LPR footprint to 8 locations within its boundaries after JPTek were awarded the contract for the installation and ongoing maintenance of the LPR camera network.

Technology driven security

LPR uses optical character recognition on images to read vehicle registration plates, thereby creating vehicle location data. These reads are filtered through software and alerts sent out to suitably screened individuals / groups (all of whom have agreed to adhere to the terms of use), to advise that the vehicle is in the area, to provide further details about the vehicle (distinguishing marks), whether it has been linked to SAPS case numbers, and to give instructions as to what action needs to be taken depending on the type of alert.

“Since January 2017, the OBSID has been trialling this technology as part of its public safety programme, and has seen success in the location, tracking and sometimes apprehension by SAPS of vehicles confirmed as being involved in criminal activities. LPR software also allows for the loading of local alerts – for vehicles suspected of being involved in criminal activity,” comments Amanda.

Assisting SAPS

The OBSID is working in collaboration with the LPR User Group, a volunteer run organisation, who offer coordinated assistance and support to SAPS and other law enforcement bodies related to suspect vehicles and their locations.

“This will allow the OBSID’s public safety team to respond proactively to reports of suspect vehicles in the area – thereby potentially preventing crime from happening, and to provide location updates to SAPS of vehicles of interest.

“We’ll be able to search licence plate reads after events to locate vehicles suspected of being involved in crime incidents in the area – and use this information to alert other LPR users in neighbouring suburbs and wider. This may result in the suspect vehicle being detained weeks or months after the initial event.”

With the LPR system, public safety teams from other CIDs, private security providers using LPR and the SAPS will all receive real time information about possible risk vehicles heading their way, leading to an increase number of arrests.

Safeguards are built into the system to eliminate cloned number plates / stolen number plates / false number plates.

Amanda says the LPR system cannot work in isolation: “LPR cameras are NOT overview / public space cameras (CCTV). We’ll continue to rely on residents with street facing cameras to allow us access to their feeds to search for footage of crime events after they happen as part of the investigation into an event.”

LPR so far

OBSID’s LPR cameras were brought online late in February 2019 and have been welcomed by the wider LPR community. “Having our LPR cameras online has filled in a coverage gap between Cape Town central and the Southern Suburbs as well Cape Town Central and the major highways and freeways,” says Amanda.

Amanda says there is clear evidence the system offers effective security support: “We have already seen distinct patterns of vehicular activity that will inform public safety response strategies (e.g. cars circling, coming into Observatory in the same time interval each day, cars linked to the drug trade repeatedly entering the area past the same cameras).

“Since the beginning of March 2019, alerts from the OBSID cameras, received and acted on by SAPS, have led to numerous arrests as well as the tracing of stolen vehicles. In addition, crime attempts have been disrupted due to responses to alerts.”


For more information about the OBSID and its projects, please contact: Amanda Kirk, Chief Executive Officer, Observatory Improvement District (OBSID), 021 448 7090, amanda@obsid.org.za

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