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Effective Gun Violence Mitigation is More Than Just Gunshot Detection

Effective Gun Violence Mitigation is More Than Just Gunshot Detection
Sep 18, 2019

Newtown, Aurora, Parkland, El Paso. Your local mall. 

For many Americans, the names have started to blur, and there’s been a growing dread that mass shootings are inevitable – the new normal. 

In the absence of a broader national policy on gun violence, many police departments are left to deal independently with the issues of gun violence on the ground, and as the frequency of mass shootings has risen, law enforcement across the country has rapidly embraced technology to put a dent in the problem.

Traditional Gunshot Location Technology is Useful, But Limited On Its Own

Acoustic localization and gunshot location (GSL) technology has been widely used in military applications since the early 20th century, but practical civilian use only came into vogue in the 1990s. 

At its core, GSL technology typically triangulates the source of a gunshot using sound waves created by ammunition being discharged. In combination with GPS, this triangulation allows police officers to pinpoint the source of gunfire on a map. Some systems have the additional capability of capturing and conveying audio clips of the discharges in real-time to regional crisis centers, giving dispatchers the ability to determine, for example, whether the event is a single shot by a handgun or an active shooting with semi-automatics. 

GSL Focuses Solely on the Gunshot Itself 

While civilian GSL adoption has steadily risen, localization systems in and of themselves can be limited and inaccurate. How well, for example, can traditional GSL distinguish between backfiring cars and semiautomatic weapons? The available research suggests false positive rates as high as 70% can limit the technology’s effectiveness and decrease use by officers and first responders. 

More fundamentally, GSL technology is one-dimensional in how it approaches a gun violence event. The actual gunfire portion of a gun violence episode only lasts a few seconds typically, and when technology focuses solely on this short time-frame, we miss the critical pre- and post-shooting information that can lead to an arrest. Some of the problems associated with this limited approach include:

  • If the event time-frame is limited, law enforcement may not reach the scene in time 
  • There is no investigative information to follow-up on e.g. description of suspect or license plate information
  • If a suspect successfully flees, there is no decrease in gun violence rates in the community

This limited application has lead to much lower rates of GSL proliferation and adoption than one would expect given the levels of high-profile gun violence today. 

Strategic Deployments and Smart Tech Work to Enhance Public Safety

V5 Systems Director of Engineering, Dr. Will Hedgecock, PhD, has spent the majority of his academic career researching distributed and wireless sensor networks. 

Hedgecock, an expert in high-accuracy localization techniques (the type used to determine with centimeter-precision where a mouse is on the earth’s surface), describes in the following video how advances in Artificial Intelligence and localization combined with other technology may help turn the tide of gun violence by:

  • Boosting Accuracy: 
    • Platforms can now host and evaluate multiple sensor streams. These streams – acoustic, video, analytic, LPR – work in conjunction to paint a full picture for law enforcement for rapid follow-up. 
    • Newer technologies have started incorporating artificial neural networks to differentiate and discriminate between sounds based on acoustic signatures. These AI-driven technologies can actually learn environmental sounds rapidly, boosting their accuracy over time. 
  • Coverage Customization:
    • Another benefit of distributed arrays is the ability for coverage customization. In large, standalone systems (like those commonly used in the military), the typical coverage unit is a square mile, which is fine if you’re covering a city, but tricky if you just want to monitor a local area like a park or school. Distributed architecture is modular and thus coverage is couched in context. 

Gun Violence Demands a Solution, Not Just a Tool 

Gunshot location technology can, on average, give first responders a fair idea of when and where gunfire has occurred, a single piece of the puzzle. That’s why thoughtful technologists, like V5 Systems, have sought to create turnkey solution suites that are aimed at gun violence mitigation as opposed to simply gunshot location. 

How? V5 Systems, for example, couples its OnSound units with its AI-driven OnSight Portable Surveillance Units and OnSight Portable License Plate Readers to give officers comprehensive live and post-event forensic evidence accessible on a single platform. The ability to see the crime and capture data on potential perpetrators allows officers to rapidly follow-up during and after violent incidents. This can lead lead to fast investigative breakthroughs, as was the case in Campbell, California, where this multi-sensor approach freed a terrorized town from two gunmen. 

This approach recognizes that a gun violence episode isn’t limited to the gunfire itself. Here is a step-by-step procedure that illustrates the power of gun violence mitigation:

  • Suspect enters the area 
  • Weapon is fired
  • Alert sent to dispatchers and directly to officers within seconds 
    1. If nearby, officers stop and capture the suspect at the crime scene
  • If not, suspect flees the area
  • Police arrive and investigation begins
    1. With ONLY traditional GSL systems: officers scan the area for nearby cameras to obtain any available footage and interview any bystanders to get  potential eye witness descriptions, making this a lengthy process, often yielding sparse information 
  • Police review video surveillance for any footage
  • Police review license plate readers (LPR) to determine which vehicles may have entered or exited the vicinity 
  • If LPR data is captured at the time of the incident, law enforcement can use this information to search for the shooter 
  • Once a suspect is apprehended, police can download acoustic, video & LPR data for evidentiary purposes 

Gun violence mitigation is a holistic approach that fundamentally accounts for the fact that recognizing and locating gunfire is only one aspect of an officer’s response. Without the other pieces, law enforcement is still at a disadvantage when it comes to tackling a problem as complex and endemic as gun violence. 

This approach also reduces risk to law enforcement personnel by arming them with varied sensor data to control how and when they apprehend suspects. LPR technology, for example, gives officers a method to track and capture suspects in locations that reduce the collateral risk to the public and to themselves.

We Deserve Better. Our Kids Deserve Better. Technology Can Help.

Whether you feel numb, helpless or have accepted the gun violence epidemic as here to stay, police departments are starting to make slow but steady headway against a seemingly intractable problem. 

Technology is not a silver bullet; however, the gun violence mitigation approach is making a difference in a sea of bad news. 

To learn more about Gun Violence Mitigation technology and to understand the technical details behind the concepts introduced here, such as Artificial Neural Networks and Localization, please visit: https://v5systems.us/gsl/

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