Gunshot detection pilot fires blanks

Despite trialling gunshot location technology for nearly two years, West Midlands Police has decided not to adopt it after the pilot showed the system was not as accurate as the force had hoped.

Oct 4, 2012
By Paul Jacques

Despite trialling gunshot location technology for nearly two years, West Midlands Police has decided not to adopt it after the pilot showed the system was not as accurate as the force had hoped.

West Midlands Police is to abandon its use of gunshot location technology which has not proved as accurate as was hoped. The force was the first in the UK to deploy the US-style gunshot sensors in a bid to cut gun crime, but with the two-year pilot of Project Safe and Sound coming to an end, Birmingham Community Safety Partnership has voted not to continue using the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System.

The technology, said to detect shots within a 25m radius from up to 2km away, had been installed on buildings in areas that experienced a high number of firearms incidents. The sensors record audio clips and give police GPS locations so officers can listen before deciding whether to send other officers to incidents.

Chief Superintendent Clive Burgess, who is overseeing Project Safe and Sound, said: “Gun crime in Birmingham is exceptionally low and the number of people who are shot is even lower.

“This has been an interesting pilot but we have always said that technology alone will not stop gun crime.

“There have been occasions where it has been activated and we could not find a firearms incident and there have also been occasions where it has not activated after a shot has been fired.

“Twenty two people were injured with firearms in the Birmingham West and Central area between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2012, the majority through the use of firearms such as air-rifles and BB guns. In this context, injury by a firearm doesn’t necessarily mean being shot but includes being injured by a ball bearing or electrocution by a stun gun.

“One injury is, of course, one too many but we are working tirelessly to tackle the criminal use of firearms through day-to-day community policing, our anti-gun education programmes, the work of our counter-gang task force and other initiatives. Project Safe and Sound was just one small element of this work.

“All of these initiatives have helped West Midlands Police reduce gun crime year-on-year and we are committed to driving down this number even further.”

Recent community engagement processes indicated that there were mixed opinions about the value that ShotSpotter technology provides. Some members of the community liked the reassurance that the technology seemed to bring while others who had focused on the numbers of positive alerts balanced against system misses or unconfirmed activations, questioned if this was value-for-money given the continued financial commitment that will be required by West Midlands Police.

The chief constable’s report presented to a meeting of West Midlands Police Authority last Thursday (September 27) said that some members of the community felt that the continued existence of the technology remained a good idea. Feedback suggested there was a perception that gun crime was reducing, however, there was uncertainty as to whether the installation and activation of the ShotSpotter system was actually responsible for this, or alternatively simply contributed to a wide variety of policing and community tactics aimed at reducing gun crime such as the Multi-Agency Gang Unit, Birmingham Reducing Gang Violence and mediation services.

The estimated cost to West Midlands Police if the pilot had continued for another 12-month period from December 2012 would have been between £39,000 and £42,175, which would have to be met from devolved budgets.

However, it was determined that the system, which has traditionally been used in countries with high levels of gun crime, would not be adopted permanently.

Furthermore, research suggests that the impressive reduction in gun crime across Birmingham mirrors that of areas which do not have a similar system in place and therefore it cannot be the sole reason for that decline.

Birmingham Community Safety Par

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