The city of St. Paul, Minnesota wants to invest some $750,000 in acoustic hardware and software that could make the city’s neighborhoods safer. Police Chief Todd Axtell and other city leaders have seen the benefits of the system in neighboring Minneapolis. Now they want the same thing for St. Paul.

It turns out that St. Paul is not alone. Cities around the world are turning to advanced sensors and acoustic data to make neighborhoods safer by tracking gunfire and responding to it. The technology behind what these cities are doing is truly remarkable. It is the domain of companies like California-based Rock West Solutions.

Sensors Gathering Real-Time Data

Making neighborhoods safer with acoustic data starts with scientifically advanced sensors placed in strategic locations around the city in question. The pole mounted sensors ‘listen’ for all sorts of sounds 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If gunfire erupts within a sensor’s range, the sound is picked up and relayed to a computer system that analyzes it.

Acoustic sensors never shut off. They are constantly sampling the sound environment and sending data to computers. That is where companies like Rock West Solutions come in. It is one thing to listen for a variety of sounds in real time; it is an entirely different matter to separate one sound from another to better understand what is going on.

Rock West Solutions is a company that specializes in signal processing. What they do has a lot of applications. In the context of what we are discussing here, their software is capable of separating unnecessary information from an acoustic signal in order to present law enforcement with only the information they need: the sound of gunfire.

The Data Tells a Lot

The signal processing necessary to make an acoustic gunfire system work is quite advanced. Signal processing technologies applied appropriately can tell police agencies an awful lot. Just for starters, police can instantly know when gunfire erupts in a neighborhood.

A good system will tell police where the shooting occurred. Data can tell them how many shots were fired, what kind of gun was used, and whether or not subsequent gunshots indicate that the shooter is on the move. Having access to real-time data means police can respond to shots fired before a 911 call is ever received.

The obvious benefit here is speed. Police can go into response mode the instant gunshot data is received. And while they are en route to the scene, computer software is busy analyzing data to give them a better idea of the threat they might face upon arrival.

How It Helps

So just how does this technology help, especially after the fact? There are two aspects to consider: prevention and enforcement. On the prevention front, a quicker response by police reduces the chances that additional shots will be fired. A fast police response can stop a criminal action in progress, thus preventing further harm.

From the enforcement perspective, the idea is that criminals will think twice about doing what they do if their chances of getting caught go up. The principle behind installing acoustic gunfire systems in cities is based on the same principle of reducing burglaries through home alarm systems.

Your typical criminal is a coward and a thug. Rare is the criminal who doesn’t mind being caught and going to prison. So based on the natural human desire to not get caught, better enforcement reduces crime. Acoustic gunfire systems are an enforcement tool that increases the chances shooters will be caught. They are a tool that more cities want.

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