File photo: INLSA

The City of Cape Town intends spending an additional R2 million to "help reinvigorate" the law enforcement department's efforts to track down warrant evaders, the City said, to ensure that by-law offenders have their day in court.

It intends to get "smarter" by using the latest technology. This includes taking photographs of the accused and checking address details via Google Maps.

The City’s Law Enforcement Department issues thousands of notices each quarter for transgressions of the administration’s by-laws, ranging from illegal dumping to illegal trading, traffic violations and offences stipulated in the by-law related to streets, public places and the prevention of noise nuisances, among others.

Where Section 56 notices are issued, i.e. an offence is witnessed by an officer, the accused has the option to pay an admission of guilt fine or to appear in court to plead their case. Where an accused fails to appear, a warrant is generated by the municipal courts and executed by Law Enforcement.

Currently, the department’s area-based staff are tasked with warrant executions on behalf of the Court Section, which takes time away from their primary duties. With the R2 million budget injection, the City will bulk up the resources in the Court Section to allow them to execute warrants themselves. 

Additionally, the City will consider how it can improve its systems to confirm the identity of suspects who are caught for by-law transgressions.

‘You can’t arrest an individual for a by-law transgression so, when issuing the fine, officers have very little means to confirm whether the details they’re given are correct. That then becomes a challenge when we reach warrant stage in a case and we can’t find the accused, because the particulars provided were false," said the City’s mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith. 

"So, we’re starting to look at using smart technology to assist us. This includes taking photographs of the accused, checking address details via Google Maps and so forth.

"Fortunately, all is not lost, particularly in cases of illegal dumping where we are able to check details using a vehicle’s licence plate. Also, traffic by-law offences and those that happen at a fixed address, like flouting building regulations and noise and other nuisances, are also far easier to monitor and track the accused, in the event that they do not abide by the Section 56 notice."

The three by-laws that generate the highest number of Section 56 notices are the Traffic; Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances; and Informal Trading by-laws. In the first quarter of 2018, these three by-laws accounted for three-quarters of all notices issued.

"The streets and public places by-law is perhaps the most challenging, because it covers offences like unbecoming conduct in public and, unfortunately, street people are most likely to be fined under this by-law. 

"Given that they are transient, it is difficult to execute warrants and ensure their presence in court, which means that we’re basically caught in a vicious cycle, because no matter the level of enforcement, there are no real consequences. It is frustrating and we are working very hard to see if there is any way to address this challenge.

"The recently launched Safe Space for street people is one way that we’re hoping to reduce the number of by-law transgressions in the CBD, because the space provides a spot to sleep, access to ablution facilities and other health and social services. 

"While this space is still in its infancy, if it works as a concept, we could well be introducing safe spaces across the metropole in the coming years. By doing so, we’ll reduce by-law transgressions but also offer street people a step up into possible reintegration," said Smith.