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Letitia James Headshot

Using Technology to Combat Crime

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Gunfire tracking technology is improving every day and has been successful in many jurisdictions around the country. With gun violence on the rise this summer, now is the time to implement gunfire tracking technology in City public housing developments.

Here in New York City, the need is clear as gun-related violence has increasingly become a part of everyday life for residents of public housing. Across the city, the communities I have spoken to have asked for solutions and I believe a pilot program to bring proven gunfire tracking systems to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments will go a long way to reducing crime and apprehending offenders.

The Daily News reported in April that NYCHA residents experience dramatically more crime than New York City residents not living in public housing. Between 2009 and 2013, NYCHA's 334 developments saw a 31 percent spike in major crime while the rest of the City experienced a 3.3 percent increase. No NYCHA resident should have to worry about the walk home at night through their neighborhood after they finish work. Yet for some NYCHA residents, worrying is a part of daily life.

One example of gunfire tracking systems, called ShotSpotter, can pick up the sound of a possible gunshot within 6-7 seconds, analyze the sound, identify its location and notify the police in a remarkably short period of time - between 30-45 seconds. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found this technology accurately detected 80 percent of test shots. Already, more than 80 cities in four countries, in addition to the United States Department of Justice, have utilized ShotSpotter. This list includes cities with high population densities such as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The use of this technology allows the police to respond faster to incidents involving gunshots and helps them to proactively develop data-driven policing strategies and tactical deployments - literally, putting more cops where shootings tend to occur. Gunfire tracking systems also address a problem that severely hinders police ability to quickly investigate shootings: the phenomenon of underreporting.

According to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, in cities outside of New York between 50 percent and 70 percent of shootings go unreported to police. Because this technology will notify the NYPD of unreported gunshots, gunfire tracking systems will help to eliminate that impediment.

Finally, the mere presence of this technology will serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

So, how much does this technology cost? In other jurisdictions that have implemented gunfire tracking technology, the average cost to install the technology was roughly $200,000 to $250,000 per square mile. The result of this implementation in Milwaukee was that the number of shots fired in the coverage area saw a decrease of 18 percent in 2013. With a $4 billion annual operating budget, the NYPD has an opportunity to direct resources to the places that have historically experienced violence and death from guns.

The NYPD's 2015 budget includes $500,000 for a pilot program to test gunshot tracking technology. Implementation of this program must happen in public housing.

Our city has an opportunity to stand up for the 403,120 authorized residents of public housing by reducing gun violence and in turn reducing crime in NYCHA developments. Gunfire should not be a part of everyday life for any child or adult in our city; but the reality is that in 2012, the NYPD estimated that while about 4 percent of the city's population lives in public housing, 20 percent of all violent crime in our city occurs in public housing.

I am confident the success of this program, in North America's largest public housing authority, will also serve as a model for other municipalities around the world struggling with crime in public housing.