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Gang violence and crime-fighting technology

Hanover Park is a suburb in City of Cape Town. The sound of gunfire between rival gangs in areas like these, at all hours of the day, has sadly become normalised, says the writer. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Hanover Park is a suburb in City of Cape Town. The sound of gunfire between rival gangs in areas like these, at all hours of the day, has sadly become normalised, says the writer. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 20, 2023


Like many others, I am completely heartbroken to see the incredible suffering of residents in Cape Town, due to the surge in gang violence and turf wars that has taken 10 lives in just the past 10 days.

And let's also remember the danger and fear that come along with the sound of gunfire between rival gangs at all hours of the day that has sadly become normalised, leaving lifelong emotional scars on citizens living in these areas and immeasurable loss to a number of innocent bystanders being caught in the crossfire.

Data provided by Cape Town Metro’s recent deployment of gun acoustic technology has revealed that between the morning of Friday, October 13, and Sunday, October 15, no less than 251 gun incidents occurred across Nyanga, Manenberg, Hanover Park, and Lavender Hill, with 618 rounds fired in total. On the Saturday morning alone, there was a two-hour period in which 177 shots were fired.

The ability to exactly measure the scale of the violence in these four neighbourhoods — Nyanga, Manenberg, Hanover Park, and Lavender Hill —is only made possible by the deployment of ShotSpotter, which is able to detect gunfire in near real time and then direct first responders to the precise location of the incident. Before this, complete statistics on gun incidents were difficult to collect, largely because research shows around 80–90% of gunshots are usually not reported by communities. So, while the statistics from the past few days make for sombre reading, the positive news is that the scale and nature of gun violence in these areas have now been quantified, which is critical in order for law enforcement authorities to respond effectively.

In the case of the surge in violence over the past weekend, both the metro police and SAPS were able to identify the exact areas that required an influx of law enforcement and then ensure that these areas were saturated with both Anti-Gang Unit members and LEAP officers, which resulted in these communities being stabilised fairly quickly. Critically, ShotSpotter also assists the police and trained medical staff to rapidly respond to every shooting incident, rendering swifter assistance to victims and ultimately saving countless lives, in particular innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.

Ralph Clark is CEO and President of SoundThinking ™ (formerly ShotSpotter). Picture: Supplied

The technology has also improved the quantity and quality of crime scene evidence collection, which should ultimately lead to more arrests and improved prosecution and conviction rates, as well as the recovery of illegal firearms in communities. This has been the case when it comes to this past bloody weekend, with City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith confirming that metro officers, in collaboration with SAPS, have confiscated a number of illegal firearms and made arrests.

In the context of a severely under-resourced SAPS with an estimated shortage of 90,000 officers on the ground, citizens should be pleased that Acoustic Gunshot Detection, along with other crime-fighting technologies such as drones, body-worn cameras, licence plate recognition, and CCTV cameras, is assisting both the City of Cape Town and the police with crime prevention, criminal investigation, and intelligence in high-crime areas.

This weekend has once again highlighted the scale of gun violence in South Africa, which won’t be solved overnight, but new innovative technologies can have a big role to play in securing neighbourhoods and saving lives. While they speak of numbered incidents and precise shot counts, the people involved in acoustic gunshot detection know that every gunshot is a potentially lethal event — not just a blip on a map, but a terrible occurrence. Through linking good data with good policing, these terrible occurrences can be decreased and hopefully eventually brought to an end.

* Ralph Clark is CEO and President of SoundThinking ™ (formerly ShotSpotter), a public safety technology company that provides transformative solutions and strategic advisory services to make communities safer.

**The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.