Shotspotter: An Amazing Big Data Use Case To Tackle Gun Crime

One of the most interesting and positive uses I have seen of Big Data and analytics technology is ShotSpotter. The technology, developed by US-based SST Inc., works by effectively analyzing the entire soundscape of a city, and providing real-time alerts when gunfire is detected.

Things have moved quickly for ShotSpotter – in two years their coverage has grown from 30 cities in the US to 90 around the world. Crucially, the company has just announced a partnership with GE which will see the technology installed into the industrial giant’s Intelligent LED Smart City street lights, a key element of GE’s vision for modern, connected, Internet of Things-driven urban development.

But this is just one potential use for the technology – as well as cutting down on gun crime in the US, the company has high hopes that it will prove useful for countering terrorism in Europe and the Middle East, poaching in Africa and even help save coral reefs in south east Asia.

I spoke to president and CEO Ralph Clark, who told me that the system’s success has thrown up some insights which are changing the way police forces think about tackling gun violence.

“Two things I am really proud of”, he told me – “One of them was just really confirming something we already knew – which is that gunfire is a significantly underreported phenomena that happens a lot more frequently than people expect.”

“The other thing has been observing the decreases that agencies have experienced tackling gunfire using our system – we’re sophisticated enough to know that isn’t all just down to the technology – it’s about how agencies have deployed it as part of their wider gun violence abatement strategies – and in cities that we’ve analysed we’ve seen immediate reductions [in gun crimes] of 28%”.

And perhaps the most interesting insight is that, by collating statistics from across multiple areas where ShotSpotter is installed, analysts have been able to infer that, while there may be a far higher number of gunshot incidents than was previously thought, there may actually be less shooters.

“What we’ve found by talking to these agencies is that it is very common to find that it is very few shooters carrying out a vast majority of these shootings. That’s very, very powerful – we know we don’t have to convince 4,000 people to shoot their guns less, we only have to deter maybe 10 or 15 people. By deter I mean either capture and convicting them, or letting them see that their friends are being captured and convicted. They are usually smart enough to figure out that they won’t get away with pulling the trigger as frequently.”