Justifying New Approaches to Violent Crime Reduction with Low Staffing Levels
In the last months, many communities throughout the United States have seen an uptick in gun violence. Criminologists and crime researchers are struggling to understand the cause for the increase. For law enforcement agencies, the increase in gun violence not only carries a heavy socio-economic toll on the communities most impacted, but it also carries a very tangible cost on their limited resources.
Every homicide or injury requires a heavy police resource allocation, including multiple patrol officers to secure the scene, crime scene investigators, and detectives, all working together to identify and capture the suspects as quickly as possible. Additionally, gun violence is often associated with gang activity, meaning each shooting incident has the potential of creating retaliatory violence.
In an effort to break the cycle of retaliatory violence, law enforcement agencies often deploy police saturation strategies. The challenge with police saturation is that it’s rarely guided by precise intelligence, and as a result, those who live in these communities perceive the increased police presence as more of an occupying force, rather than guardians committed to protect and serve. Additionally, this type of tactic is costly in manpower and not sustainable.
Law enforcement agencies are increasingly recognizing that we cannot continue to do the same thing over and over and expect different results, and they’re now looking at how a technology like ShotSpotter can more effectively address gun violence. In evaluating ShotSpotter, law enforcement executives quickly surmise that with less than 20% of gunfire being reported to 911, deploying ShotSpotter will sharply increase the number of gunfire incidents reported in their jurisdictions.
This poses a good news, bad news scenario as they become aware of more gun violence incidents, they will also be responsible for responding to more incidents. The big question then arises; do they have the resources to handle the potential additional workload, especially in an environment where staffing levels may already be low?
Will ShotSpotter Overload Officers in a Department with Low Staffing Levels?
Low staffing concerns are typically grounded in the fear that officers will be overworked and not able to utilize a system like ShotSpotter given the likely 500% increase on alerted shooting incidents. However, many departments have found a 5X increase in alerted shooting incidents does not translate into an unmanageable workload increase for their deployed officers even in low staffing situations. In fact, using ShotSpotter enables more efficient use of staffing resources and the real-time gunfire intelligence delivers the invaluable benefits of saving lives, enhancing officer safety, and building trust with the communities most impacted by gun violence.
As an example, let’s look at a typical ShotSpotter city – let’s call it Metropolis –that would fall under a “very active” category in terms of shooting incidents. Prior to deploying ShotSpotter, Metropolis received approximately 75 gunfire related calls for service per month and most of those incidents occurred within a 5 square mile area. Thanks to a progressive Police Chief and elected officials, Metropolis deploys ShotSpotter to cover that 5 square mile area, and now Metropolis PD becomes aware of approximately 375 (500% increase) shooting incidents per month. In other words, they’re now on the hook for responding to 300 more gunfire related incidents per month.
Let’s assume that those 300 additional gunfire incidents all occur within a 4-day per week window (16 active days per month), and all occur between 1700 hours and 0400 hours, hence, typically spanning 2 shifts. Let’s also assume that each square mile is divided into 2 beats, for a total of 10 beats for the 5 square miles, and for the sake of this model, the gunfire activity is evenly divided throughout all 10 beats. Based on those assumptions, we can then use the following formula to calculate the daily workload demand per beat (DWDB): DWDB = (# gunfire incidents /# of active days/# of shifts/# of beats). Plugging-in our numbers, we get the following DWDB = (300/16/2/10), resulting in approximately 1 additional daily gunfire-related calls for service.
Based on this formula, it shows that it really doesn’t matter how large a ShotSpotter coverage area a city deploys when you break down the additional workload per shift/beat. The increase in workload demand is very manageable, and in turn provides a significantly high impact of positive outcomes. As an important side note, if Metropolis experiences the median ShotSpotter gunfire reduction over the first two years of service, they could expect a 34.7% reduction in gunfire activity, with corresponding reductions in homicides and injuries.
Many of the cities that have deployed ShotSpotter have suffered high crime rates and face similar resource challenges. Yet, as busy as they are, they have found that an additional 1.5 daily calls for service is well worth the effort and investment. In fact, research indicates that nationwide less than 5 percent of police calls for service require a rapid response. Given that statistic, and to reiterate what many of the law enforcement executives who have implemented ShotSpotter have stated; what could possibly be more urgent than responding to someone firing a gun in our neighborhoods?
In today’s environment, can any agency afford to overlook the real ground truth of gun violence because of low staffing levels? As many of our agencies have found out, tools like ShotSpotter can be even more important to staff-constrained departments by accurately providing ways to measure criminal activity and enabling better and smarter policing. This, in turn, can help inform decision makers on how to best optimize limited staffing resources and ironically, might even help provide the justification they need to fund additional positions. As they say, sometimes less is really more.