Fail: ShotSpotter Spots 1,618 Phatom Shots

shotspotter

In December 2010 the city of Birmingham, UK installed the ShotSpotter, the controversial gunshot detection system. It cost approximately $257,000 to install and $36,000 each year to maintain but now, 20 months later, has now been deemed an outright failure. The BBC reports (emphasis added) ….

But just 20 months later ShotSpotter was judged to be a second failure.

In August 2012 West Midlands Police said of 1,618 alerts produced by the system since November 2011, only two were confirmed gunfire incidents.

What’s more, the force added, ShotSpotter had also missed four confirmed shootings.

In a system such as this, false positive are far worse than false negatives. False positives (report a gun shot that did not happen) waste limited and expensive police resources to investigate. False negatives (not reporting an actual gunshot) is simply the status quo before the system was installed. The real cost of this system was not the installation and maintenance, but the the wasted police resources investigating phantom gunshots.

He acknowledged there were “technical problems”, which caused the system to be less accurate than normal, but suggested this could have been avoided if the city had been more committed to the idea.

The classic “it would have worked if only we bought more of it”. We can only wonder how many more false positives would have been reported if they had expanded the system.

A review of the 22 injuries caused by guns in Birmingham’s west and central areas between April 2011 and March 2012 reveals that the majority were the result of air-rifles and BB air guns.

“A higher sensor density might permit such modified weapons to be detected, but the economic equation would, again, need to be reviewed,” said Mr Bedlock.

It’s not impossible that ShotSpotter will return to the UK. The Home Office notes that it is “down to each regional police force” as to whether it invests in the equipment.

But for now it seems this is one instance where the traditional trumps cutting edge tech – at least where British cities are involved.

Disclaimer: The author of this post has invented a knife-crime detecting system called StabSpotter. Utilizing patented acoustic technology StabSpotter can detect stabs from knives, swords, spears or bayonets that happen as far as 5 yards away from one of its sensors. It guarantees no false positives as long as every StabSpotter sensor is deployed at least 1 mile away from kitchens, hospitals, any sort of manufacturing, high schools which have not yet banned scissors and outdoor recreation areas.



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • Zachary marrs

    I would’ve just walked aroung smashing a trashcan with a hammer

    • JumpIf NotZero

      If the system worked, they would find you 😉

      Still, I like the contempt for a stupid system!

      • Zachary marrs

        Im the reason why they stopped putting up no target shooting signs near my house

        • Sam Schifo

          Did you target shoot all the no target shooting signs?

          • Zachary marrs

            Yup

    • Michael Bergeron

      Fireworks, lots of fireworks.

    • ColaBox

      Or clang two bricks together. Bang, bang, bang!

      • Zachary marrs

        Its in Britain, coconuts, with an unlaiden african swallow.
        4 cookies to all who know what im talking about

        • volkov25

          Wouldn’t matter, its just a model

          • Zachary marrs

            They turned me into a newt

            But I got better

        • oliverkrystal

          I bet their favourite colour is blue ….

        • BRN169

          I’m not quite dead yet…

          • Zachary marrs

            Ni, Ni, Ni.

            We demand… A SHRUBBERY!

        • Ken

          Fear and surprise, surprise and fear. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

        • trashhauler

          Are you suggesting that coconuts are migratory?

          • Zachary marrs

            Well, if they grip it by the husk…

    • Blake

      Or any Sly Stallone war movie played back through a half-decent stereo would probably do it too &ltgrin&gt

    • J.J

      Two bricks slapped together

  • “Great”Britain

    Wait till they get a load of me and my 4th of July stash

    • Zachary marrs

      Or my err’ day stash 😉

  • Mark

    Again with the editing on TFB… In the article headline, phantom, is misspelled.

    • Andrew

      I’ve given up at this point. I don’t know how many times we can keep posting “guys, up your proofing game”, only to have them respond “Yes we agree! Alrighty then!” and then keep on going status quo.

    • Andrew

      What’s most bothersome is how cheap it is to use any of the myriad proofing services available via simple Google search – and how they just don’t. I get they clearly don’t care much about proofing themselves, so for < $10 they could offload the work. But nope, they rather go along knocking the professionalism of this site by posting internet comment-quality writing.

      • Rob

        Or at least run a spell check.

  • AGG

    Nice disclaimer at the end! I almost missed that!!

  • derfelcadarn

    I must agree that those in the city that sanctioned it purchase should be committed

  • Yellow Devil

    Implausible. With British enlightened gun laws, there should be no unauthorized shootings in the first place! The system would have been better geared toward tracking vicious yetis, grey aliens sightings and/or breaches in time travel protocols.

    • LCON

      I remind you Devil… This is the UK, The number of Doctor visits would overload the system.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    “This could have been avoided if the city had been more committed to the idea.” Sounds a lot like “if only we could have persuaded them to buy and install 3 units per city block, we might be able to get more positive readings…all for a measly $771,000 per block and $108,000 per year.”

  • LCON

    “Disclaimer: The author of this post has invented a knife-crime detecting system called StabSpotter. Utilizing patented acoustic technology StabSpotter can detect stabs from knives, swords, spears or bayonets that happen as far as 5 yards away from one of its sensors. It guarantees no false positives as long as every StabSpotter sensor is deployed at least 1 mile away from kitchens, hospitals, any sort of manufacturing, high schools which have not yet banned scissors and outdoor recreation areas.”

    Does it work against Spears?
    What about Freddy Krueger?

    • volkov25

      How about slashes? Does it detect those?

    • gunslinger

      the wolverine?

      what about prison shanks? non metalic (toothbrush w/plastic wrap) etc?

  • RawDawg

    In 2008 I was issued a device called a SWAT to wear on my wrist in afghanistan. It’s principle was the same as this, it would detect shots and tell you the direction they came from via a digital display. It did not work. It picked up your own rifle, the people around you, mortars fired, mortars landing.

  • Mark N.

    OK, let me get this straight. A country that has virtually banned handguns for citizens invested huge sums of money for a system to detect what turned out to be 6 shootings in 20 months? Why?

    • The Forty ‘Twa

      Political types (and I include senior police officers in that description) like to “invest” in these kinds of projects to justify their re-election or next promotion. There are places in the UK that could really benefit from a system like this (London, parts of NI) but Birmingham probably isn’t one of them.

      • papertiger0

        They should try it out in the woods first. Away from the bricks mortars and fireworks. Just to see if it does work.
        It would be interesting to find out if the 1600 phantom shots were people banging their trashcans.

        • Zachary marrs

          *Grins slyly*

        • Callum King-Underwood

          Its a rubbish bin in the UK. They also tend to be predominantly made of plastic, doubt a plastic bin would false trigger it – unless the system is really bad that is 😛

  • davethegreat

    The disclaimer is full of win.

  • steveday72

    You know a country’s gun ban really worked when cities have to install expensive systems to locate all the shootings!

    • 6677

      guns arent banned. Shootings are still statistically low. Theres this thing called the black market.

    • Julio

      When legislators are told that gun bans only take guns away from people with a proven record of respecting the law they just put their fingers in their ears and sing “la-la-la-la-la” until the common sense stops. In the UK too.

  • Ken

    So there were 22 INJURIES from guns during a 12 month period and they pay $257,000 to install and $36,000 each year for something that doesn’t even work. I’m pretty sure there are a lot more people dieing from things that they could better put their money into. Are Europeans that scared of firearms?

    $257,000 to install and $36,000 each year
    $257,000 to install and $36,000 each year

  • Michael Lorton

    Yeah, those phatom shots are the worst.

  • tricknologist

    It’s only a failure if you look at it from a racisty old fashioned conservative view point.

    It helped a bunch of Leftists feel good about themselves and got some cronies a bunch of cash. So, how is that a failure ?

    That sounds like it’s time to double down, especially since it doesn’t actually work. And when it doesn’t work the next time, it’s time to double down again.

  • ndbucksmith

    but all detection must be false positives. Citizens in the UK cannot own guns. it’s illegal!

    • Callum King-Underwood

      no it isn’t….

  • dwpittelli

    It sounds to me like they just set their alarm threshold too low, in order to catch BB guns and air rifles, which is a rather silly goal. But given how few real guns there are in the UK, maybe UK cities shouldn’t be buying these devices anyway.

  • BryanS

    Imagine the damage a roving drum corps could do.

  • Dave

    C’mon guys.. phantom shots?? It’s clearly the ghost gun with those high capacity clips.