Friday, June 1, 2012

Just How Often Does Gunfire Happen In Your City?

I've been intrigued by technological solutions to crime problems facing many communities. One interesting technology is that of gunfire detection systems. The New York Times had this piece that looked at the technology's implementation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The technology uses acoustic sensors to detect gunfire and then triangulates the location that the gunfire took place. Police can then be accurately dispatched to the location and respond much quicker than they would the old fashioned way, when someone picks up a phone and calls. Of course, in many cities, the old fashioned way is getting to be awfully hit and miss.
If nothing else, ShotSpotter has made it clear how much unreported gunfire takes place on city streets. In many high-crime urban neighborhoods, gunshots are a counterpoint to daily life, “as common as the birds chirping,” as Commander Mikail Ali of the San Francisco Police Department put it. But whether out of apathy, fear or uncertainty, people call the police in only a fraction of cases.
I think most cops can come up with examples of incidents where they've responded to a shooting only to discover that the problem had occurred some time past and no one had bothered to call. In the sleepy little burg where I work, it's not unusual to get a call from the hospital reporting a shooting victim and to find out that no one at the scene of the shooting bothered to call.

Would you consider using gunshot detection technology in your community if it were available and you could afford it?


  1. Glad you asked this. Dave and I did an efficacy study on ShotSpotter last year, which is available here:

    We were paid for the work but the methodology is clear and we were allowed to (and did) say negative things as well as positive: we're confident that it is an objective overview of how the technology works.

  2. Nick, good work on the study. As an analyst, I thought this was interesting:

    During our field interviews, we had hoped to learn that analyst departments were leveraging the ShotSpotter
    data to support intelligence operations at the department consistent with crime analysis, intelligence analysis, or national policing programs such as community policing and intelligence-led policing. However, we
    found that for many reasons observed, due to a lack of standard ShotSpotter data workflow or activation
    data lifecycle management primarily associated with lack of consistent and comprehensive reclassification
    or cleaning, analysts cannot access the data necessary to support the use of ShotSpotter to inform these

    Far too often, data, and how well it is maintained is the frustration for many analysts. Command staff wants effective analysis, but without the time to double check the input and categorization of data.

  3. Nick & Damien, Thanks for the great input!


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