For the first time ever in the UK, sensors that alert police to the exact location of gunshots were installed. West Midlands Police has installed dozens of the ‘ShotSpotter’ sensors in north-west Birmingham in a bid to combat gun crime in the city.
The sensors, already widely used in the U.S., will immediately alert police to loud bangs and can pinpoint their location to within a 25 metre radius.
The transmitters, which can determine exactly how many shots are fired and the direction the shots were fired in, has already helped to reduce gun crime by up to 70 per cent in some American cities.
Police are hopeful that the technology will reduce gun-crime in the area and help increase conviction rates. The £150,000 system with fixed sensors is activated by a loud bang - which is recorded and immediately flagged up in a police control room with a GPS location. A police officer trained to listen to and interpret the clips correctly, then makes a judgement on the basis of what has been heard before deploying officers.
The sensors have been attached to public and private buildings across a two-mile square area in north-west Birmingham which is notorious for gun crime.
Chief Superintendent Chris McKeogh said: “We can immediately dispatch officers to the area, 'We also hope that the technology will help us detect gun crime in the area that may currently be going unreported. The sensors can also monitor sound waves to detect how many firearms have been discharged - which will help our officers to be better prepared when they arrive at the scene. The ShotSpotter sensors do not record or monitor conversations - they are only activated by loud noises” he said.
However, he admitted that the sensors being about 85 per cent accurate - and can also be activated by other loud noises, including cars backfiring, fireworks and possibly even bin lorries.
The system, funded by the Home Office through Birmingham Safer Partnerships, comprising the West Midlands Police, West Midlands Fire Service and Birmingham City Council - £150,000 to set up, has an 85% accuracy rate, Ch Supt Chris McKeogh said adding maintenance costs would go up to £21,000 a year. But Chief Superintendent McKeogh said the scheme could save the force hundreds of thousands of pounds by reducing crime in the area. A murder costs about £1million to investigate.
“North-West Birmingham has between 60 and 80 gun-related incidents every year, and we are really hopeful that this technology can reduce that number considerably, ShotSpotter is already in use in 50 American cities and comes highly recommended to us. At the moment, we don't want to reveal the exact location where the sensors have been installed, to avoid alerting criminals to the system” he said.
The system, called Project Safe and Sound, will be active from Thursday. It is being used in the West and Central local policing unit, which covers areas including Handsworth and Aston.
Dispelling rumours about the Asian and black community being targeted, McKeogh reassured security and safety by saying, “We have worked closely with the local community who are, on the whole, very pleased about being involved in the pilot scheme.”
Raj Rattu, a member of Handsworth residents' group and part of the force's Trust and Confidence group, said he was reassured by the approach the force had adopted for the gunshot sensors project.He said 400 residents attended one meeting, where "mixed views" were expressed.
"Some are for it, some are against it, and we understand police are caught in a dilemma. We want guns off our streets and gun crime is falling, but we are reassuring residents that the areas are safe and we're working with the police" he said.
The project will be reviewed after six months and again after a year
McKeogh further revealed, “If the system is successful, then we will look at rolling it out to other areas across the city. We will assess it after six months and again after a year, and hopefully will notice a reduction in gun crime. We are very proud to be the first force in the UK to be using the technology”.