Columns

It's time for technology

Glenn Tucker

Sunday, May 13, 2018

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These past weeks have been emotionally taxing for residents in western Jamaica. The traffic accidents were particularly horrifying. But there is something different and deliberate about murder. And it is particularly disturbing when it is visited on innocent children.

Two officers were injured during a shoot-out with a gunman in St James. Seven people were shot to death and many shot and injured in Westmoreland. Some are blaming the police. But the police cannot prevent what they don't know about.

I write this article knowing full well that my editor may cast it aside. That is because he must be tired of me writing on the same topic. I keep stressing that technology exists to make crime fighting less risky for crime fighters while guaranteeing more successful outcomes. Witnesses are often too fearful to give information; and many of those who do deliberately mislead the police.

On April 19 last year, I got a call from a relative in the US reminding me that it was my birthday. The call was interrupted because she was distracted by report of a shooting on TV. A man in Fresno, California, left his home, heavily armed, with the intention, he admitted, to “kill as many people as possible”.

He only managed to kill three, in close proximity of each other. The police were able to apprehend him within minutes. I will limit myself to the technology they had which prevented this from being a tragic mass murder. Seconds matter in an active shooting. Real-time active shooter alerts are critical so that first responders can arrive almost instantaneously to the right location with as much situational awareness as possible.

It is an affordable tool that is in use in the police departments of more than 90 cities in the US. Microphones, placed strategically around high-crime areas, pick up the sounds of gunfire, differentiates this from fire crackers, etc, figures out where the shooting is taking place, how many shooters, and the type of firearms they are using. The police then locate the crime scene on a map and are on their way immediately. This also enables them to respond quickly to isolated incidents.

In this way, the police can deploy resources strategically with “serial shooters” or small clusters of criminals that make up the bulk of a given area's crime.

The impact of gun violence is multi-faceted. Nine out of 10 times when someone fires a gun, the police never respond because they are unaware of the incident.

Dispatching officers to an active shooting, without all available intelligence, is a threat to officer safety and needlessly places the public at risk. When police don't arrive at the scene of the crime, it fuels negative perceptions, creating the impression that the police are unprofessional.

Research shows that people, particularly children, in high-gunfire areas are more likely to suffer from psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Property values usually decline substantially and business owners begin to explore alternatives. Workers are laid off. In short, crime and violence suppresses economic vitality. Such is the life cycle of high-crime areas.

All of these problems were in evidence in western Jamaica this past week. Let me state something which a child can figure out: No gunman or group of gunmen is going to just go into a strange area and carry out these activities on strangers. They kill the children because they know the shooters and can identify them. The residents of these areas know these killers. Their reluctance to identify them should make the police stop, think and possibly revise their strategies. It should also highlight the need for tools that ignore family ties, friendships, and/or 'licky-lickiness' to ferret out sick, heartless killers who are robbing this country of its very soul.

The technology of which I speak is just one of numerous innovations that are on the market to deal with every imaginable aspect of crime.

Businesses are closing. Investors are pausing. Mental health issues are spiralling. Community trust is weakening. The old ideas are obsolete. The clock is ticking. It's time for technology.

Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Observer or glenntucker2011@gmail.com.

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