Hi-tech plan to film gunmen

Metro police chief Yolanda Faro, front, at the control room featuring the municipality’s new ShotSpotter technology. Alongside her is Constable Marcus May
Picture: Werner Hills

ShotSpotter to be linked to CCTV rollout in northern areas

Gunmen in Nelson Mandela Bay could soon find themselves starring in revealing – and incriminating – camera footage.

The municipality plans to beef up its new gunshot detection system by installing CCTV cameras in the northern areas to assist with recording shootings.

The gunshot detection system – known as ShotSpotter – pinpoints the location of a gunshot, and by early next year could be linked to CCTV cameras that will record the actual shooting.

It has been revealed that the CCTV cameras are the second phase of a joint anti-gang operation between the South African Police Service and Metro Police.

The ShotSpotter pilot project was launched in October and within two months had recorded 824 gunshots in 240 separate shooting incidents.

The advanced system is to be linked to hi-tech cameras that record any shooting automatically, hopefully catching the culprits red-handed.

The Kruger National Park uses a similar system to pinpoint the location of rhino poachers who use the cover of darkness.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the most shots recorded in a shootout to date were fired between gangsters in the Stanford Road and Chamois Street area in Helenvale on December 3 at 1am.

Analysis of the shots allowed police to determine that the gangsters ran up and down several streets during the shootout, which lasted about five minutes.

Data shows that in total, 57 shots have been recorded in the same area over the past month.

According to authorities, they have determined that of the 30 gangs operating in the northern areas, only about five appear to be at war with each other.

In addition to the technology, the South African Police Service has deployed additional specialist intervention members in the northern areas, to complement Metro Police.

Spotter data has allowed gang unit detectives to analyse patterns and the times of shootings to determine “hot spot” streets.

The latest crime figures indicate that in the Gelvandale area, between April 2016 and May 2017, there had been 73 murders and 225 attempted murders.

During the same period in Bethelsdorp, 117 people were murdered and 133 cases of attempted murder were opened.

According to Metro Emergency Medical Services, they responded to several shootings between November 2016 and October 2017, when 169 people were wounded and 39 killed in the same area.

In the broader Port Elizabeth area, during the same period, 727 people were shot, of whom 186 died.

The mayoral committee member for safety and security, John Best, said authorities’ average response time to shootings had been narrowed down to between two and five minutes.

“On the first shot being fired, the data is sent to an off-site control room, where it is analysed by trained experts. The analysts then verify that sound is a firearm, and send the data to the Bay control rooms, which in turn dispatch police.

“The entire verification process takes less than 30 seconds for police to be alerted.”

A team from The Herald heard recordings of recent shootings, with residents screaming in the street while the gangsters continue firing.

“On hearing the bang, the system automatically records everything from that point. This is why you hear the screaming in the recordings,” Best said.

In the new year, the Metro Police will erect CCTV cameras as a pilot project, which will work hand in hand with ShotSpotter.

“So the cameras will be linked to ShotSpotter. They will zoom in and record the shooting as it happens. You can imagine what this will do for convictions in court cases,” Best said.

Metro Police chief Yolanda Faro said a major issue for detectives was gangsters and children tampering with crime scenes before police arrived.

“For example, two groups of rival gangsters fire between 10 to 30 shots at each other in one shootout. No one might be hit, resulting in no one calling the police. Inquisitive children or gangsters then collect the spent bullet casings.

“These casings are critical evidence in future cases. When a gangster is arrested at a later stage, he can be charged with additional crimes such as murder, attempted murder and the firing of a firearm.”

Faro said ShotSpotter had an acoustic system that distinguished between gunshots, cars backfiring, loud bangs and fire crackers.

“We have an app that some members of the gang unit have on their phones. This allows them to get the shooting incident and location, in real time, directly to their cellphones.

“Part of the process is enhancing response times but the other part is crime scene management, to allow detectives to get more evidence and eventually arrest the culprits for a string of crimes.”

Eventually, the system could be expanded to other high-crime areas across the Bay, and be linked to the 1 000 municipal CCTV cameras across the city.

South African Police Service spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said bullet casings found after a shootout were crucial for identifying shooters and the firearms used.

“So, when a firearm is found and confiscated, we are able to see if there is a match.”

Ballistic experts could also determine if a gun was stolen during a robbery or burglary.

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