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LED Gunshot Monitoring: Protecting Neighborhoods One Light at a Time

In a previous blog, I discussed the effect of nighttime lighting on urban crime rates. Studies have shown that, despite many people’s expectations, lighting levels do not necessarily affect an area’s safety or the amount of crime. They do, however, affect our perception of safety; most people feel safer in well-lit areas. To instill this sense of safety and lower energy costs, many cities have begun replacing traditional street lighting with amber LED lighting, which provides sufficient visibility for pedestrians and vehicles but is more efficient and less intense than other lights. But can our street lighting do even more?

While it would be unreasonable to expect lighting to eliminate crime entirely, recent progress in LED technology may be able to help. I’m talking specifically about gun violence here, which accounts for thousands of US deaths every year. So far in 2015, there have been over 10,000 gun-related deaths and over 40,000 incidents involving guns. GE Lighting is joining forces with SST, Inc., a security company, to implement something called the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location and Detection System. The technology would provide reliable information on the time and location of gunshots, which authorities can now only provide about 10% of the time. The two companies have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to install ShotSpotter technology into GE’s software- and sensor-enabled LED streetlights.



Gunshot Detection Technology Combined with LED Lighting

ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensor technology to detect when and where gunshots occur. If combined with the right software, ShotSpotter could analyze data and send results to law enforcement and first-response agencies.

This is where GE Lighting comes in. Earlier this year, GE introduced the Intelligent Environments for Cities platform—a fancy name for their series of data-sensor-equipped, cloud-based LEDs. GE’s lights can also transmit data on weather and light conditions, parking availability, environmental hazards, and be equipped with video monitoring and public-address systems. San Diego, CA, is one of the cities already using GE LED technology; they’ve reported a savings of more than $350,000.

With ShotSpotter’s gunshot monitoring technology, GE’s intelligent LEDs can each be part of a revolutionary network of responsive, data-collecting devices. Installing this network in a violent neighborhood would provide an automated, 24/7 neighborhood watch program.

Reliable and Immediate Information for First Responders

Law enforcement and emergency responders often lack immediate and reliable information about shootings. Individuals in neighborhoods plagued with frequent gun violence are often reluctant or unable to report information on shootings. Oftentimes, those who do report a shooting can only provide incomplete or incorrect information.

Installing sensor technology into LED lighting helps close this information gap and makes it possible for police, ambulatory services, and other first responders to assist gunshot victims and apprehend suspects. The LEDs would be able to collect data on incidents including the number of shots fired, the number of shooters, and the precise location from which shots were fired. Almost immediately after bullets are shot, information can alert dispatchers or specific responders, similar to alarm notification software many companies are already using. Over time, the data would be able to show, specifically, where these crimes are happening and where law enforcement would be most effectively deployed.



LiFi Brings Us One Step Closer to the Internet of Things

The collaboration between GE Lighting and SST demonstrates how LED lighting offers much more than illumination. LEDs in LiFi, which is basically WiFi transmitted through the visible light spectrum, could turn every streetlight into a technological node; a web of these nodes across a city would act like an interactive, communicative web of information.

As ShotSpotter and GE continue to roll out their plans for the lights, experts are exploring the other applications of their technology. Streetlights wired with both ShotSpotter and LiFi technology have the potential to alert mobile users within a specific radius of a shooting, giving them a chance to find cover. Similar alerts could be sent to alert users about extreme weather, heat, or cold.

Do you think ShotSpotter technology would have a positive impact on urban crime rates? Let me know below!


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New Study Shows Crime Rates Unaffected By Night Lighting

Many cities have invested in significant upgrades to street lighting, converting to energy efficient LED and solar powered fixtures in an effort to save money and power. In some places, the local government has resorted to turning off the night time street lighting entirely. There are those who believe that this is an unacceptable option for conserving resources, citing an increase in traffic accidents and crime as a reason to keep the lights on. A new study from the University of London School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, has called this correlation into question, concluding that there is no relationship between increased street lighting and less crime.

Research Casts Shadows on Conventional Wisdom

Night lighting in cities consumes a lot of energy, and the light pollution from heavily populated areas has a detrimental impact on the environment. Municipalities assume that the financial and environmental costs of lighting are a necessary evil in order to reduce crime and prevent automobile collisions. Only recently have local governments, who may not be able to afford LED Amber upgrades, been scaling back their night lighting for both cost and environmental reasons. The choice to turn off the lights has often been portrayed as a somber sacrifice in safety.

The 2015 study indicates that this may, in fact, be a false portrayal of the situation. Researchers looked at data on road traffic collisions and crime in 62 cities in England and Wales where authorities had turned the lights off, dimmed the lights, turned them off intermittently, or substituted the lamps with low-power LEDs. They found that reduced lighting had no effect on crime or accident rates.

The University of London’s study is consistent with other recent research. A 2011 study, focusing on London, found no correlation between street lighting and safety. A 1997 report to the United States Congress by the National Institute of Justice reached the same conclusion. A further study, conducted by the City of Chicago in 2000, showed that bad outdoor lighting can actually contribute to crime rates; while a 2012 report by the American Medical Association concluded that glare from unshielded lights can decrease safety for drivers.

Fear of the Dark: Addressing Public Concerns

Increased lighting may not increase safety, but it does affect the perception of safety. City dwellers out at night understandably feel that they need stronger lighting to travel safely. Residents in some cities have expressed concern when night lighting was dimmed or eliminated to save money.

To address these concerns, community leaders must engage in outreach with residents so that they understand the basis for any street lighting plan. Residents are less likely to object to such changes if they are consulted up front and given reasons supported by facts to explain the locality’s plan of action.

It is also important to note that reducing outdoor lighting does not mean eliminating night lighting entirely. Many of the councils under study had replaced traditional lighting with energy saving measures such as amber LED lights. These lights are dimmer but still provide sufficient illumination for pedestrians and drivers alike; and their low, familiar orange glow cannot be seen by nocturnal species. City leaders can apply common sense to provide adequate visibility at night and at the same time reduce unnecessary glare by installing fully shielded or cutoff fixtures wherever applicable.

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