Tech curbs gun crime

2016-10-04 06:00
The City of Cape Town announced on Thursday 29 September 2016 that the first deployment of ShotSpotter technology has resulted in a marked decrease in gunshots recorded in the areas monitored.  PHOTO: Earl Haupt

The City of Cape Town announced on Thursday 29 September 2016 that the first deployment of ShotSpotter technology has resulted in a marked decrease in gunshots recorded in the areas monitored. PHOTO: Earl Haupt

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Following the introduction of the ShotSpotter technology to the communities of Hanover Park and Manenberg, the spate of shooting incidents has decreased dramatically.

This is according to the City of Cape Town’s Mayco member for safety and security JP Smith.

ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection system pioneered in the United States of America and was initially brought to South Africa to combat the scourge of rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park. Smith decided to pounce on the opportunity of piloting the project in Hanover Park and Manenberg for the better part of seven months.

The technology provides real-time gunshot detection, which includes the exact location that the gun was fired. This information can then be fed directly to law enforcement agencies and emergency services for immediate response.

“Historically those communities who endure the highest levels of gun violence are least likely to report it to the police as they have been desensitised. Further to this, eyewitness reports can be unreliable due to the trauma caused by these incidents,” Smith says.

Seventy-one gunfire incidents have been recorded between Thursday 1 and Thursday 29 September – down from 128 in August and 211 in July.

Smith admits that more analysis is needed, but the initial findings have already been astounding.

“During the pilot project, we saw an increasing willingness from the community to come forward with tip-offs that resulted in arrests and the confiscation of drugs and weapons,” Smith adds.

The initial roll-out has not been without complication however, as criminal elements in the monitored areas are now using firecrackers to confuse the system and assess police response times before using their firearms.

“While this kind of cold-blooded coordination is unsettling, we are very happy that they have to work that much harder and think that much more carefully before committing these acts of violence. We are confident that the increased chance of being held accountable for their violent actions is having, and will continue to have, a suppressive effect,” explains Smith.

Meanwhile, ward 47 councillor Tony van der Rheede says that there has been a visible change in the level of safety currently being experienced in Hanover Park.

“Kids are walking freely. There are less gang fights. There are single shots whereas in the past there were multiple shots. The investment has had the necessary outcome.

“I am in the process establishing more neighbourhood watches, which coupled with ShotSpotter, it will sustain this improvement.”

Smith reiterates that ShotSpotter is not the “magic bullet” which will stop all gunshot related crime, but simply a tool for officers to be more efficient.

“With ShotSpotter, every single gunshot is being responded to. Great praise to (the police) and Lieutenant-General (Khombinkosi Elvis) Jula, because as a result of his intervention (the police) are on board. Between the police and Metro Police, they are really making sure every shot is responded to.”

Smith adds that now, instead of multiple gunshots being fired, only a single gunshot is usually recorded. “(ShotSpotter has) driven down both the number of shootings and the number of shots in each incident. That means fewer victims, fewer innocent bystanders getting hurt, fewer lives being lost and that is good news,” exudes Smith.

He says that this in turn builds trust with the community, while also providing the police with sufficient forensic data to drive their prosecution.

“There need to be detectives dedicated to a prosecutorial process to put the scumbags away and get them off our streets. Sadly, the City has no input on that and that we don’t have power over. All of that sits in the criminal justice system, which sits in the hands of national government. Their refusal to drive specialised units has been a problem. Now the specialised units are slowly being embraced,” Smith adds.

Van der Rheede expressed the need for ShotSpotter to be spread out to other communities and that it will enable those on the ground to carry out their duties more effectively.

“There’s no foolproof system. It becomes a deterrent and it constantly reminds the community that they have a role in fighting crime. Only then we will have our area reduce in crime and then to sustain that reduction. There is no way that you can have 24-hour policing. That is where we need to play our role. The walking bus is an initiative similar to the neighbourhood watch in order to get more children to school in the morning if you are able to volunteer. That is where we should be going, coupled with these initiatives.”

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