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Public Safety Technology in South Africa

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Ralph Clark, President and CEO of SoundThinking, recently joined acclaimed South African television presenter and radio host, Pabi Moloi, for a lively conversation on her popular radio show, “Power Lunch with Pabi Moloi,” on Johannesburg’s POWER 98.

Over the course of their forty-minute conversation, Clark discussed SoundThinking’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology three-year pilot program and recent expansion in Cape Town, South Africa. He also shared insights on the importance of public safety technology in addressing gun violence and the importance of community engagement. Here are highlights from that conversation.

ShotSpotter in Cape Town

Cape Town became the first city in South Africa to use ShotSpotter beginning in 2016. It was deployed on a three-year trial basis in Cape Town’s Hanover Park and Manenberg neighborhoods, areas long associated with high rates of gun crime and other violence. As is all-too-often the case, fear of gang retaliation, skepticism over police effectiveness, and normalization of such violence meant that shootings often went unreported to police, hampering law enforcement’s ability to effectively address the crisis and perpetuating an endless cycle of violence. 

By implementing ShotSpotter, SoundThinking’s acoustic gunshot detection technology, Cape Town Metro Police and South African Police Service (SAPS) would be notified of virtually all gunfire within ShotSpotter’s coverage area within 30-45 seconds of trigger pull. By ensuring a fast and precise response, law enforcement could initiate life-saving trauma interventions to gunshot wound victims, collect critical evidence for criminal investigations, and aid in getting criminals and their weapons off the streets.

The introduction of ShotSpotter proved to be pivotal in accomplishing these goals. The system’s real-time alerts and pinpoint accuracy contributed to over 50 arrests, the recovery of more than 35 guns, and the confiscation of 400 rounds of ammunition. Notably, the implementation of the ShotSpotter technology also led to a significant reduction in the occurrence of gun violence – a result of employing acoustic gunshot detection as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing gun crime.

The latest phase of the project occurred in December 2022, with the expansion of the ShotSpotter system to a 9-square-kilometer area in Hanover Park and deployment into suburban areas like Lavender Hills in Cape Town.

Integration of Public Safety Technologies

No matter the country, gun violence is a complex condition. It’s like cancer in this way – while there is no single solution, there are still effective treatments that, when taken in combination, can reduce the cost and impact of the disease. In terms of addressing gun crime, this means bringing together a broad array of stakeholders and utilizing multiple tools – including various public safety technologies – to save lives.

The adoption of just such an approach can be found in Cape Town, where Metro Police forged a successful partnership with SAPS. Tactics included integrating gunshot detection technology with both fixed closed-circuit television (CCTV) and even untethered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone cameras capable of traveling quickly to the scene of shooting incidents.

A live demonstration of this integrated system occurred during a May 4th press conference announcing the expansion. Following a ShotSpotter alert, cameras quickly refocused on the incident location, allowing attendees to witness the rapid response of SAPS and local Metro Police. Not only was the gunshot event resolved, but two individuals involved were arrested – both of whom were wanted on previous homicide charges. This real-life exhibition showcased the incredible power of merging multiple technologies in real-time law enforcement.

Other forms of public safety technology could be integrated in the future. SoundThinking’s CrimeTracer, often called “Google for Cops”, is one example. Consolidating data from local police departments that are typically restricted to individual jurisdictions allows for data sharing between these entities. Given that crime often transcends local boundaries, CrimeTracer enhances cross-jurisdictional investigations to aid investigators and help take dangerous offenders off the street. In South Africa, the technology would provide a unified, secure, and easily searchable database of crime information stretching from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.

Improving Police-Community Relations

In Cape Town and other cities where its used, ShotSpotter technology plays an instrumental role in fostering police-community relationships. When communities experience gunfire and the police don’t respond, the residents suffer twice: once from the perpetrator, and then from the absence of police intervention. A prompt response is key, not just for saving the lives of gunshot victims, but also as a viable means of instilling trust that law enforcement cares about their well-being. 

ShotSpotter also facilitates greater opportunities for engagement and collaboration. When law enforcement responds to a precise alert, they are more likely to locate physical evidence and identify witnesses. In addition to aiding investigations, resulting interactions with community members effectively serve to build trust, as residents come to view police as allies in reducing violence and achieving safer, healthier neighborhoods.

The successful implementation of acoustic gunshot detection in Cape Town underscores the potential of a public safety technology such as ShotSpotter to act as a force multiplier in law enforcement’s toolbelt. Nevertheless, it is crucial to remember that technology alone is not a cure-all for the complex crisis of gun violence. As shown in Cape Town’s experience, a comprehensive approach—one that pairs multiple forms of public safety technology with meaningful community engagement and cross-jurisdictional cooperation—proves most effective in tackling gun violence and creating safer, more resilient communities.

To learn more about how to leverage SoundThinking’s SafetySmart Platform to keep your community safe, please get in touch with us.