Straight-shooting US tycoon has SA's crims in his cross-hairs
Using sophisticated audio sensors, police can now pinpoint exactly where a gunshot was fired
An American investment banker and businessman finds himself as an unlikely brother in arms for cops around the country – steering pioneering technology to combat gun crime into use on South Africa soil.
Ralph Clark, a native to Oakland, California, traded roles as banker to lead ShotSpotter, a groundbreaking technology that can triangulate the sound of gunfire to within metres of where the trigger was pulled in a matter of seconds.
“I started my career working for IBM in the early 1980s and from there I went to Harvard Business School and then right out of school went into investment banking for a number of years,” he said.
Clark said that he’d been approached to take the reins at ShotSpotter, a US-based company which uses audio sensors placed in a neighbourhood to triangulate the sound of gunfire.
“I locked in on this passion and purpose around trying to prevent and reduce gun violence. We’re clear that this is a for profit enterprise but it also has a social purpose. We do all of the technology maintenance and we provide a service. What the police need to do is what they do best, that is responding to gun violence,” he said.
Clark was speaking to Times Select in Durban last week, where he was holding meetings with the eThekwini Municipality about how the technology could be applied in the coastal metro. The meetings were the first steps on a potentially long road to having the technology installed.ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors that are strategically placed in an array in order to detect and triangulate gunshot activity. Each sensor captures the precise time, location and audio snippet associated with boom and bang sounds that may represent a gunshot. This is then reviewed in real time and takes less than 45 seconds between the actual shooting and the digital alert to the police.
The system has been in operation in Cape Town, and has led to its first successful conviction of a gang member from Manenberg.“[Our system] all goes toward denormalising gun violence. How it changes things is like this the police department will now be aware of nearly 100% of gunfire activity versus 10% to 20% that would normally be reported,” he said.
Clarke added that if police departments wanted to prevent gun-related slayings, shooting incidents should be given a greater investigative priority.“That is a paradigm shift for police departments because they love solving murders. Investigating and solving a shooting is not sexy and that is where there needs to be a change. The quicker you identify the shooter the better, as they may end up killing someone with that same gun.
“In Johannesburg where we put up a system to trial, there were 261 gunfire incidents and only one phone call reporting gunfire in a 30-day period,” Clark said.
“Our work in Cape Town has confirmed that the vast majority of gunfire doesn’t result in a homicide or a gunshot wound victim, and sadder that the vast majority of gunfire incidents don’t result in a call to 10111.”