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18 November 2011 at 17:01 - Posted by Anonymous

City goes hi-tech to nail gangs


A sophisticated gunfire location system called Shotspotter is to be introduced in Cape Town ganglands.

Strategically placed microphones will let law enforcement officers trace exactly where shots are coming from within seconds. This is just one of the moves to tighten the screws on gangs in the next few months. A city council team is also set to target gang bosses by prosecuting them for breaking by-laws.

As gang violence strengthens its grip on Cape Town, Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato again called on the government this month to reinstate specialised gang units in the police.

At least 14 people have been killed and several wounded in alleged gang-related shootings in Cape Town in the past two months.

The most recent include:

*On Wednesday night, an alleged gang member was shot in Lavender Hill and died of his injuries. A nine-year-old girl was wounded in the crossfire.

* This week, two men were shot dead in Mitchells Plain.

* In Lavender Hill last month, a 14-year-old girl was killed when she was caught in crossfire.

* In Hanover Park, a 13-year-old boy was paralysed after being wounded during a shoot-out between rival gangs in August.

* There have been fatal shootings in Elsies River and Bonteheuwel.

Now the City of Cape Town says Shotspotter will be one of its tools in a major clampdown on gangs.

The system works through triangulated placement of microphones. The sound of gunfire is transmitted to a server that pinpoints the location.

The information is then fed to a surveillance camera system, which homes in on where the incident took place. A call centre dispatcher alerts law enforcement. All this happens within minutes.

JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, said the system could pinpoint a gunshot to within two metres.


In the US, the time of dispatch from the incident was under one minute, compared to six minutes when incidents were reported via the 911 emergency number.

The system also detects the number of shots and provides audio playback. It can identify the types of weapon used and in which directions the perpetrators moved after the shooting.

It is being successfully used across the world and in more than 50 cities in the US.

Smith said the plan was to start operating early next year in Hanover Park, which has one of the highest rates of gang violence.

The city will also expand its camera surveillance network to Hanover Park and the Athlone CBD.

Smith said the tender for the Shotspotter system would be released soon and it was hoped it would be rolled out in the next few months. He had seen it operating in Washington with success.


“I want to experiment with the technology first, before deciding on whether it should be a fixed or mobile installation,” said Smith.

There was no concern around the theft or vandalising of the sensors. Smith said they were small, easily concealed and would be installed in areas where they could not be easily reached.


He said the city had R2 million available for the sensors. “We already know of a local supplier.”

Smith said cities using the system had seen a drastic reduction in gunfire. “We are not going to have people shot in crossfire any more.”

A few months ago, representatives from Shotspotter were in Cape Town to brief the city about the project. Smith said police also attended the presentation.

It included an independent study from US company CSG Analysis, which involved interviews with law enforcement agencies using the system.

It found that it helped police investigations and assisted in deciding how and where to deploy officers. Respondents credited the system for “saving lives”, as response times were cut.

Detectives reported knowing how many shots were fired and where they were fired from before they arrived on the scene.

In one case in New York, officers reached the scene of a shooting while the victim was still alive and saved the person’s life.

On the issue of “false positives”, the study found that around 70 percent of “Shotspotter activations” were triggered by gunshots. - Cape Argus

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