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Wilmington crime fight needs more than tech

July 09, 2015



We are happy to hear that the ShotSpotter gunfire detector picked up fewer sounds of guns being fired in Wilmington

We are happy to hear that the ShotSpotter gunfire detector picked up fewer sounds of guns being fired in Wilmington so far this year. We are less optimistic, however, that fewer recordings automatically mean progress in the battle against violence in the city.

The Williams administration announced this week that the ShotSpotter technology recorded fewer gunshots in the first six months of 2015 than in the last six months of 2014. The ShotSpotter was installed about a year ago in certain parts of the city. It detects gunshots and alerts police.

“The ShotSpotter annual review is a positive indicator that the Wilmington Police Department continues to attack violent crime in the City of Wilmington,” Mayor Dennis Williams said in a press release. “By utilizing ShotSpotter’s innovative technology, the police are able to proactively address gun crime in targeted areas throughout the city.”

ShotSpotter is a useful technology. However, technology is a tool, not a solution.

The ShotSpotter detects sounds. But police reports are still needed. Those reports show that the total number of shooting incidents in Wilmington for first six months of 2015 was down by two, from 49 to 47, over the first six months of 2014.

However, the number of “fatal shooting incidents,” as they are described, rose from 11 in the first six months of June 2014 to 14 in the first six months of 2015. In other words, the number of shootings is down, but the number of deaths from those shootings is up. The numbers are from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting project.

This does not mean anything is wrong with ShotSpotter. As we noted, it is a tool. The police need to use many tools. Some are operational. For example, the city police launched Operation Disrupt in January. It put extra officers in high crime areas until the program ended in June. Police officials say crime went down in areas that were part of the operation.

That is quite likely. However, quick-hit programs will have only a limited effect. Like the technology, they must be tools in a larger strategy. That is why, over the long haul, the best bet is a strategic deployment of forces. A recent assessment of the Wilmington Police Department by an outside commission recommended a number of management changes. Among these was smarter use of available technology, which the department apparently is doing. The commission also recommended staffing changes, control of overtime, putting commanders on different shifts, and strategy meetings. The department is fitfully following those recommendations. The commission also suggested more crime-investigation training and technology upgrades, such as better data management and better use of cameras around the city.

Whatever success ShotSpotter contributed to the effort to keep down shootings should be noted. The bigger problems should be next on the to-do list.

Delaware Online