Big Data is helping law enforcement respond to gun violence in the form of an invention called ShotSpotter.

ShotSpotter uses data on normal city sounds to identify the distinctive sound of gunfire, in real-time and send that gunshot data to police. This is a useful law enforcement tool in two ways. Unreported gunfire is more common in cities that many people think, so police inevitably miss many incidents. Data on those potential trouble spots is missed. Second, and more important, the highly uneven reporting leads to an incomplete picture of where gun violence happens.

Big Data helps to complete that picture, helping city officials who use ShotSpotter to better understand where gun violence happens and when. Because firing a gun inside a city is almost always a crime and many of those guns are stolen, the “shot maps” that the police develop make it easier to target patrols and investigations.

ShotSpotter seems to work as intended. The system went from being used in 30 U.S. cities to 90 cities around the world in a few years. Cities that deployed ShotSpotter alongside other crime-reduction efforts saw a 28% decrease in gun crime.

The United States has the highest rate of legal gun ownership in the world and the highest number of gun deaths in the world, according to statistics reported by in the wake of a 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Firearms also figure into the majority of violent crimes, including the vast majority of all homicides, according to statistics published on CNN.


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