Cities Can Use This Innovative Technology to Reduce Gun Violence

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Getting to the scene of gunfire quickly and having the situational intelligence necessary for immediate action is key for first responders.

An example of ShotSpotter's dashboard, showing where within a city gunfire was detected by audio sensors. (photo: ShotSpotter)
An example of ShotSpotter’s dashboard, showing where in a city gunfire was detected by acoustic sensors. (photo: ShotSpotter)

This is a guest post by Ralph A. Clark of SST. Inc./ShotSpotter.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, yet just acquiring the latest device or gadget doesn’t mean it will magically transform your life if you don’t know how to effectively use it. The same thing can be said about gunfire detection technology and the potential it has to be a significant game changer.

Today’s technology can offer tremendous new breakthroughs for cities, but successful outcomes must be planned for and embraced by both city officials and the community at large. The technology provider must also provide a full solution and be a trusted partner offering access to industry experts, ongoing services, training and more.

It’s no secret that gun violence in our cities is escalating and impacting public safety. Cities of all sizes across the country have already employed, or are considering implementing, gunfire detection technology as a potential solution. Rather than just adding more “feet on the street,” cities are finding that the right investment in technology can make cities safer while maximizing existing personnel and allowing them to better engage with the community.

Timely and Accurate Information is Key

One of the most important benefits gunfire detection provides is to radically improve access to vital information that enables safe and timely response to emergencies and can help resolve and prevent incidents in the first place. Whether it’s the urban gunfire that plagues our cities daily, or the very infrequent, yet tragic, gunfire from an ‘active shooter’, getting to the scene quickly and having the situational intelligence necessary for immediate action is key for first responders.

Unfortunately, the citizens most affected by gunfire are the least likely to call it in. In fact, it is estimated that fewer than two in 10 shooting incidents are reported to 911 – and, when calls do come in, the information comes in several minutes after the fact and is most often inaccurate.

To help remedy this problem, my company provides a gunfire detection and analysis solution – ShotSpotter – that uses proprietary acoustic sensors to detect and locate gunfire in real time. Alerts are then qualified in our Incident Review Center (IRC) and broadcast in under than a minute to 911 dispatch centers, patrol cars and even smartphones, with the precise location, number of rounds fired, multiple or single shooters, and other valuable situational intelligence. These alerts are critical because they enable first responders to arrive at the scene quickly and safely in order to aid victims, collect evidence, and quickly apprehend offenders.

A Proven Tool for Gun Violence Reduction

Already, many cities and police departments across the country have turned to advanced gunfire detection technology to dramatically improve their ability to respond to gunfire incidents. With more than 90 deployments across the country, cities using this technology are reporting significantly reduced gun-related crime and achieving better engagement with their communities. In our National Gunfire Index for 2014, an analysis of actual gunfire data from 47 American cities using our solution, we found the median reduction in gunfire incidents was 28.8 percent from 2013 to 2014. Fall River, Massachusetts, saw the largest decrease with an almost 58 percent reduction. More recently, our 2015 Index shows that gunfire incidents declined by a median of 12.8 percent last year, with the cities of New Haven (-39%), Atlantic City (-35%) and San Francisco (-35%) showing the greatest decline.

Mayor Sam Sutter of Fall River said, “We are extremely pleased with the dramatic decline in gunshots Fall River has seen over the last few years. While the 57.4 percent decrease is substantial, there is still much more to do. I believe we have the people, the strategy and the tools – including ShotSpotter – to make our city even safer yet.”

One of our early customers, the city and police department of San Francisco, California, has experienced nearly a 50 percent decrease in recorded firearms violence since deploying ShotSpotter as part of their gun violence abatement strategy. A spokesperson from the office of the mayor said that ShotSpotter was key in lowering crime rates, with homicides now at a 30-year low in the city.

Across the country in Canton, Ohio, the police department is using ShotSpotter as a preventative tool, along with proactive community-focused efforts, to combat gun-related crime that was escalating in the 75,000-person city. With the system in place for more than two years, the department reports that gunfire incidents have decreased by nearly one third per year, and evidence collection has increased by nearly four times.

The Future of Gun Detection is Bright

ShotSpotter is already driving meaningful outcomes in cities today, and we are hard at work on new developments that could make it even easier and more cost-effective for cities to use the technology. We recently announced that we are working with GE and its energy start-up, Current, to embed our technology into Current’s intelligent LED street lights. This means wherever there is an array of streetlights, there could also be a precise, real time gunfire detection alerting service to help law enforcement respond to and deter gunfire.

With ShotSpotter sensors embedded into lighting fixtures throughout a city, broader coverage areas will be available on a more affordable basis. Well-lit streets are already a plus for crime prevention, but now cities will be able to use street lighting for much more than just illumination.

The new GE LED streetlights are another way cities can get on board with gunfire detection by smartly leveraging their existing infrastructure. By blending new technologies together, cities can get more for less while improving the public safety outcomes and benefits to the communities they serve.

Smart Cities with Smart Technology

The use of technology to enhance and extend the capabilities of today’s cities is a smart and wise investment.  There is only so much that more manpower can do to reduce gun violence, and budget constraints are a constant issue. The results of gunfire detection technology prove that timely and accurate information helps cities to do more with less, enabling them to respond  and making the city safer for both the communities they serve and first responders.

About the Author: Ralph A. Clark is the President and CEO of SST. Inc./ShotSpotter.