Hi-tech 'ears' and drones to pinpoint gang violence in Cape Town

Acoustic detection technology able to pinpoint the location of gunshots in real-time is being installed in gang violence hotspots after a successful pilot project in Cape Town. 

The technology — known as SoundThinking (formerly ShotSpotter) — identifies the sound of gunfire via a network of acoustic sensors using triangulation, immediately alerting law enforcement authorities.

Gunfire alerts are being integrated into the city’s digital rapid-response system — known as EPIC — to co-ordinate multi-agency responses to violent incidents with SAPS. 

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said on Thursday the technology was part of a “suite of interventions — from aerial surveillance to drones, CCTV, bodycams, dashcams and more — backed by a R860m 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,” he said. 

Going forward the city aimed to incorporate “aerial surveillance — including drones — as an additional ‘eye in the sky’ to the audio alerts”.

How ShotSpotter works.
How ShotSpotter works.
Image: SoundThinking

The initial gunshot detection pilot project was run in Hanover Park and Manenberg for just more than three years, which the city said had resulted in a “significant reduction in shooting incidents, number of shots per incident, and an increased recovery of illegal guns in these areas”. 

The impact of the acoustic technology in city crime-fighting efforts include: 

  • Hanover Park (December to April), where 21 firearms and 288 rounds of ammunition were recovered, resulting in 32 arrests;
  • Manenberg (February to April), where 11 firearms and 101 rounds of ammunition were recovered, resulting in 16 arrests; and  
  • Lavender Hill (April), where the first firearm confiscation and related arrest occurred on April 7. 

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 city said. 

 “The technology went live in Manenberg on February 1, 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.” 


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