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Can US system help forces crack down on gun crime?


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System uses acoustic sensors to detect and locate where a gun has been fired.

Pic courtesy of ShotSpotter

Pic courtesy of ShotSpotter

Date - 29th March 2019
By - Nic Brunetti
1 Comment1 Comment}


British police will consider using an American high-tech system that listens out for gunshots in cities to crack down on rising gun crime.

The ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors, placed around a neighbourhood, to detect and locate where a gun has been fired. It enables officers to be despatched to the scene of a potential incident without a report from the public.

Gun crime has been on the rise in London since 2014 when there were 1,755 incidents – climbing to 2,542 in 2017 – a 44 per cent increase.

In the UK as a whole, gun crime incidents climbed to a high of 9,578 in March 2017, after initially falling year on year from 2003 to a low of 7,729 in 2014.

Now academics believe the technology could provide an extra tool to the police in combatting firearm offenders, who they say often progress to the lethal weapons from knives.

The tech has proved successful in the US, where many cities experience higher than average  shootings, and just last year Chicago announced a new £23 million contract until 2021 to cover 100 square miles of the city.

In Miami, Florida the homicide rate fell by 35 per cent in 2014 and gunshot incidents by 50 per cent as a result of the technology, the Mayor Francis Suarez said.

Leading firearms forensic expert, Dr Rachel Bolton-King, who works with police bosses on technology including the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS), has been granted almost £10,000 to explore new crime-fighting solutions for the UK, including the ShotSpotter, and will journey to US cities in the summer on a fact-finding mission.

Her input could support a business case for the Metropolitan Police to try out the artificial intelligence solution – despite a failed trial back in 2012 in Birmingham.

The Staffordshire University professor, 33, told Police Oracle: “We believe at the time (in Birmingham) the (lack of) occurrence of gun fire and possibly the chosen location of ShotSpotter meant we could not calibrate the system well enough to only detect gun fire.

“Due to the increase in gun crime in London over the last year or so we believe there is now sufficient gun fire occurring to re-evaluate the potential success of implementing this system there.

“However, we need significant evidence of the value of the system in other countries and identify the best practices and requirements for establishing an appropriate location of ShotSpotter within London.”

The technology had proved costly in Birmingham. According to West Midlands Police, it was around £150,000 to install and a further £40,000 to monitor per year.

Chief executive officer of ShotSpotter, Ralph A Clark, said the price had since come down and it was charging $100,000 per square mile for the whole year, on a subscription basis.

He added that the tech had ‘vastly improved’ since then and the company had had ‘intermittent’ discussions with the Met.

David Tucker, lead for crime and criminal justice at the College of Policing, the professional police body in the UK, welcomed the proposal but said the jury was still out on whether the technology would prevent crime.

He said: “Gun crime in England and Wales is relatively low although we are concerned about the rising number of allegations.

“This technology won’t prevent a shooting but it could enable a more rapid response and investigation.

“However, the use of any tool or tactic in fighting crime needs to be based on its effectiveness balanced against its cost.

“The College will be interested to see how the technology benefits investigation and whether it has any prevention impact.

“With this knowledge it may be possible to judge whether police forces’ investment in this technology is worthy of consideration.”

Dr Bolton-King will examine how the tech is working in Oakland, Stockton and Sacramento, California before flying off to South Africa to see how it is applied there. She will be looking for examples of best practice in a bid to put right what had gone wrong in the first UK trial.

Up to 80 per cent of all gun crime is never reported, according to a US report from the Urban Institute. This is down to a number of reasons, including the public failing to report incidents due to fear, not seeing them in the first place, and firearms discharges where there are no victims.

In the case of a criminal ‘trying out a gun’ in a back alley, the technology could potentially detect the gunshot and send officers to the scene to arrest or gather intelligence from left over bullets or cartridges, which can be matched via a gun crime database.  

The Met refused to comment on works in progress.

The London Assembly concluded in a 2018 report that ‘most gun crime was linked to drugs and gangs’ in the capital.

Dr Bolton-King added: “If you look at the national statistics, UK gun crime is still relatively low, but when we look at gun crime in major cities like London, Liverpool and Birmingham, the percentages are starting to rise significantly.

“It is putting significant pressure on our resources and on our police forces to keep up with that.

“Hopefully we can use my findings to support business cases for new technology or to raise public awareness of how to work with forces to detect gun crime.”

View On Police Oracle

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As with everything the government look at what works elsewhere in the world and then tries to adopt it on the cheap, with a Poundland version.

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Looked so go and then we see its a small bursary of £10k to one person.  Oh and that probably includes the "fact finding" trip to the US.  May make someone feel good and the odd sale made, for a trial.

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The difference between the UK and the USA is that whole communities don’t hear gun shots and then choose to ignore them (not that I am trying to crest blame).

I am not what the cost benefit analysis is of introducing this to the UK, unless it was deployed in specific micro communities.

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