Cape Town using gunshot detection, drones to pinpoint gang violence

05 May 2023 in Where We Govern

The City of Cape Town is combining gunshot detection technology and drones to pinpoint gun violence flare-ups and rapidly deploy policing resources. Acoustic gunshot detection systems went live in Hanover Park in December, Manenberg in February, and most recently in Lavender Hill since March, with more to come. Around 35 firearms and 400 rounds of ammunition have already been taken off the streets, resulting in 50 arrests in these areas in a short space of time, with many lives saved in the process. The City is investing around R860 million over three years in technology to make Cape Town safer, from CCTV, to drones, dashcams, aerial surveillance, acoustic gunshot detection, and the master digital system to coordinate it all in real-time – known as EPIC. Read more below:

The City is installing gunshot detection targeting specific gang violence hotspots in consultation with the South African Police Services (SAPS). This follows a successful pilot programme in Hanover Park and Manenberg for just over three years which resulted in a significant reduction in shooting incidents, number of shots per incident, and an increased recovery of illegal guns in these areas.

The technology – known as SoundThinking (formerly ShotSpotter) – identifies the sound of gunfire, giving law enforcement authorities the ability to immediately pinpoint territorial battles erupting between rival gangs. Previously, violence flare-ups would only become known to SAPS once the body count began rising. However, now the City is able to gain strategic information in real-time to share with police, enabling authorities to concentrate resources into stabilising an area a lot faster.

Besides alerts to specific gunfire incidents, the data enables more strategic deployment of policing resources in general by identifying hotspots. Gunshots can be pinpointed by street, block, day and time of day, generating heat maps and measurable data on gun violence trends over time. Automatic gunfire can also be specifically detected, upping the chances of taking these deadly weapons off the streets. The City is integrating gunfire audio alerts into its digital rapid-response system – known as EPIC – to coordinate multi-agency responses to violent incidents together with SAPS.

‘Acoustic gunshot detection is part of the City’s vision for tech-led policing to make Cape Town safer. This includes a suite of interventions – from aerial surveillance, to drones, CCTV, bodycams, dashcams and more – backed by a R860 million investment in safety tech over three years. By deploying gunshot detection and drones to gang hotspots, we aim to see rapid, tech-led deployment of police to gun violence flare-ups. Tech-led policing provides a crucial strategic advantage as we add more boots on the ground, having already deployed 1 200 new officers to crime hotspots in vulnerable communities through the LEAP programme together with the Western Cape Government.

‘For best results, we need a well-resourced SAPS to stage rapid joint responses with us, and well-run prosecutions to gain convictions. Our officers are already taking guns and drugs off the streets on a daily basis. But with more policing powers – particularly to investigate crime – we can do even more to help SAPS by building prosecution-ready case dockets.  President Ramaphosa and the Justice Minister can devolve these powers by way of a declaration expanding the peace officer powers of our well-trained municipal law enforcement under the Criminal Procedure Act. On behalf of every resident living in daily fear of crime, we will continue to fight for this simple intervention to make our city safer,’ said Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Over time, the City is phasing in aerial surveillance – including drones – as an additional ‘eye in the sky’ to the audio alerts provided by the gunshot detection technology. This tech-led response to gang violence flare-ups offers several advantages to authorities, including:

  • Better prospects for arrests and firearm recovery
  • Increased potential to gather crime scene evidence to improve conviction rates
  • life-saving trauma interventions to gunshot wound victims

Gunshot detection is already complementing City crime prevention initiatives, with encouraging results despite only being in place a few months. In total  including:

  • Hanover Park (Dec – Apr): 21 firearms and 288 rounds of ammunition recovered, resulting in 32 arrests.
  • Manenberg (Feb – Apr): 11 firearms and 101 rounds of ammunition recovered, resulting in 16 arrests
  • Lavender Hill (April): the first firearm confiscation and related arrest occurred on 7 April

‘It is critical to understand that this gunshot detection technology will not stop gun violence, but that it is one more tool among many to reduce crime. The City’s continued investment in technology to supplement existing enforcement efforts is well documented, but meaningful change can only happen when all levers of the criminal justice system are working together. Resources and intelligent policing will get arrests, as we see from our weekly enforcement efforts, but without swift convictions, these efforts come to naught.

‘The gunshot detection technology relies on quick responses to be effective. The City has increased its resources in many of the crime hotspots since the technology was first piloted, through the introduction of LEAP. We are also working closely with SAPS to ensure that we have as many enforcement resources to help us fully exploit the technology,’ said the Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.

Ralph Clark, President and CEO of SoundThinking said: ‘We are proud to be partnering with the City of Cape Town and SAPS to tackle the ever-increasing levels of gun crime in the metro and are keen to build on the successes seen to date. We hope to expand our footprint into other hostspot areas in Cape Town and other South African municipalities as part of a holistic response to tackle gun violence and increase public safety in communities.’

Gang violence trends

In Hanover Park, which went live first, there were 127 gunshot alerts in December 2022 (460 rounds fired). From January to April 2023, there were 60 – 74 monthly gunshot detections.

The technology went live in Manenberg on 1 February, with 65 alerts during that month (129 shots fired). April saw an increase, with 139 alerts and 303 shots fired.

In Lavender Hill, there were 40 detections in March, with 75 rounds fired, while April saw a slight increase – 123 rounds fired from 53 alerts.