Chicago is known for having unsafe neighborhoods, especially on the South Side. The rise in crime has led cities like Chicago to find new ways of preventing and dealing with crime. However, not all solutions are effective, and some may be completely hype.
One of these examples is the usage of microphones to capture and triangulate gunshots. The basic premise is that these microphones could pick up the sound of gunshots faster than simply waiting for someone to dial 911. The microphones could then locate the source of gunshots and alert the police. The system even uses machine learning and AI to help with triangulation!
ShotSpotter’s technology is clever, appealing, and has been used in over 100 American cities. Chicago alone pays over $11M a year to deploy the technology in key neighborhoods. Putting aside the controversial nature of microphones, the results of technology are questionable.
The Chicago Office of the Inspector General (OIG) did a study analyzing the impact of technology on crime. According to the OIG, the system generated 50,000 alerts over a period of 5 months, but only 2% of these alerts led to the police stopping somebody. A smaller amount (0.4%) led to arrests or recovery of weapons.
Any police precinct has to weigh its investment with the final results. Is a 2% success rate good enough? It would be hard to argue that it is. As it turns out, there are more effective ways of dealing with crime. Building relationships in the community and talking to informants are two ways that are likely to be more effective at preventing and solving crimes.
ShotSpotter’s technology is a solution searching for a problem. The usage of AI and machine learning makes the solution more appealing, but it doesn’t help it find a problem. Some AI approaches are fanatical in their design, but we need to focus on root causes instead of applying bandages.