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The Joburg metro police department has a secret weapon in the fight against crime – an average-looking Golf with three speed cameras attached to the roof.
Each continually scans number plates of parked cars, those driving in front, behind and in the opposite direction to the police car. The plate numbers are relayed to an onboard computer, which in turn wirelessly sends and crosschecks them against the eNaTiS traffic information system database. The server then bounces back detailed information about each vehicle.
The passenger is as busy as the driver.
The screen flashes bright-red if the car is stolen, the registration disc has expired, the car is not roadworthy, if it was involved in a crime, or if the plate is a duplicate.
“Even if they tell me they have forgotten their licence, I can check if they have a current one on the system… If the car has a problem, I will find it. As long as it passes me, I’m going to get it,” says high-speed unit Sergeant Patrick Baloyi.
The Licence Plate Recognition System is a highly advanced piece of equipment patrolling the tarmac. At a cost of R700 000, there are just three Golf GTI vehicles fitted with the technologically savvy artillery. The vehicles have no JMPD branding on them.
The system is not new, as it was initiated three years ago. But Baloyi says they are reaping the benefits only now.
Last week, the system picked up a stolen vehicle, and on closer investigation, the team seized half-a-million rand worth of the drug cat. This year, Baloyi’s vehicle has identified and helped to recover three stolen vehicles.
Even if a car is not reported stolen, the system’s screen displays who should be driving the cars they pass (name, age and gender). If the officers have any suspicion, they pull the vehicle over.
The system is generally followed by two other high-speed police units, in case they find a stolen car and the driver refuses to stop.
“Sometimes we get heavily armed hijackers,” says Baloyi.
If a stolen vehicle passes the licence plate-recognition system and the law enforcement agents don’t act, JMPD headquarters radios the police officers to ask them why.
Yesterday, on Harrison Street in central Joburg, the screen flashed red and picked up a parked Polo with a registration disc that expired three years ago.
“Organise a 59,” said Baloyi over the radio. The driver was not present, so they called in a tow truck.
They make four arrests a day on average, thanks to the system.
NO FAKING IT
“The main problems we have are fraudulent licence discs and fake number plates.”
On the N1 to Pretoria, the system picked up a green Golf driving about 100m ahead. The car’s disc expired in 2009.
Baloyi sounded the siren and indicated to the vehicle’s driver to pull over. “I bought this car,” said the driver. The licence disc on the dashboard is due for renewal only next year; but it’s a fake.
The driver changes his tune to: “I’m thinking of buying this car from my cousin. You can call him. I don’t know anything about the fraudulent disc.”
Baloyi responds calmly: “You are under arrest, sir. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a legal representative.” As Baloyi escorted him to another unit car, the man said: “Surely you’re not going to arrest me. We can sort this out.”
Baloyi laughed: “See. Even white people make fake licence discs.”
Two minutes later, the screen flashes red again. Another expired licence disc. The man on his way to work in a red Corolla admits to everything.
“It expired in 2010. I didn’t have the documents to get it renewed at the time, so I photocopied and changed the old one. Please give me a break, I’m late for work,” he pleaded.
He had his rights read to him and was taken to a Midrand police station.
“A lot of people try to pay us bribes. It doesn’t work,” said Baloyi. He said you will be fined if caught with an expired licence disc. But if you duplicate an old one and try to change the dates, “that is fraud. And that’s an arrest.” -The Star