August 9, 2023
By Johnmichael O’Hare, sales and business development lead at Cobwebs Technologies
This is the first blog in a series about open-source intelligence software (OSINT) integration with technology used in Real Time Crime Centers (RTCC), which combine humans and technology to analyze and investigate regional crimes, trends and incidents.
Gun violence continues to escalate, especially during the summer months when more people are outdoors and tempers flare.
Across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fort Worth, the Fourth of July holiday was overshadowed by mass shootings in which 15 people were killed and nearly 100 injured. As communities reel from deadly shootings, trauma of gun violence is taking a toll on the nation’s mental health. We need a better understanding the impact of seeing gun violence and hearing gunshots in public are having on our communities, especially our youth. Gun violence remains the number one cause of death for children ages 1-19 at a rate of almost 5 in every 100,000, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.
As a society, we are just beginning to understand the consequences for children who are not shot themselves but suffer the indirect violence trauma of chronic exposure to violent criminal elements in their neighborhoods. A cohesive approach to violence prevention is needed that brings together law enforcement, public safety workers, community organizations, social service workers and data scientists who gather the statistics on violence, crime, and mental health.
Open-source intelligence (OSINT) solutions that work in conjunction with other technologies such as gunshot detection can be a conduit to bring together these various groups, providing the means to use data in a collaborative way for violence prevention and trauma awareness.
Identifying Violence Trauma Victims
Let’s start with gunshot detection technology. ShotSpotter, developed by SoundThinking, is gunshot detection technology that uses sophisticated acoustic sensors to detect, locate and alert law enforcement agencies and security personnel about illegal gunfire incidents in real-time.
SoundThinking is launching a trauma awareness program that could serve as a model across the nation. ShotSpotter picks up a gunshot within a certain radius. Children might have seen the violence looking out their window, or just heard the gunshot. The next day that child goes to school, yet no one pays attention to the violence trauma that the child might be experiencing. If school officials had the information about the gunshots, immediately when children go to school, the care team would know they need to deal with violence trauma or psychological injury.
That said, gunshot detection is only picking up gunshot sounds. There are violent incidents being posted online that are causing trauma for children, teenagers and communities that OSINT can identify. If there is a shooting in the neighborhood, people often report it on their online accounts. They are posting videos of fights and people getting beaten up. Rival gangs taunt each other online with psychological warfare. Maybe, they drove through a rival gang’s territory and afterwards posted a picture, showing how they could have shot them if they wanted.
All this activity escalates violence and creates post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not only for individuals, but entire neighborhoods. If law enforcement, public safety responders, community activists, health and social workers, and school officials have access to this information and data, it can aid in violence prevention and the treatment of traumatized communities.
OSINT: A Violence Disruptor
OSINT fits into The Group Violence Intervention (GVI) model based out of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College. The NNSC partners with communities to reduce violence and harm, build trust, and increase public safety. Group Violence Intervention focuses on the small percentage of the population, less than one percent, which drives most of the violence within a community. The NNSC focuses on identifying those at the highest risk of killing or being killed and delivers to them in partnership with law enforcement, service providers, and community moral voices, a message against violence. The overarching message delivered through call-ins and custom notification is that we want them safe, alive, and free. There is help if they want it and there will be consequences for those that choose to engage in violence.
OSINT is ideally suited for violence prevention and disruption. Using Cobweb Technologies’ artificial intelligence (AI)-powered, web intelligence platform, analysts can identify key people, or violence brokers, whom law enforcement should be talking with and create network graphs to show relationships between them and other people. Cobwebs’ web investigation platform is a powerful OSINT solution that searches online activity, collecting and analyzing data from endless digital channels – including the open, deep and dark web.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of identifying the right people. When we are able to identify the people most at risk for violence and focus our efforts on that small number of people, we are able to take the seemingly overwhelming problem of violence and break it down into something much easier to focus on. It also allows law enforcement and community to use limited resources much more strategically,” says Laurie Owen, director of NNSC.
OSINT: Preventative Medicine
Think of OSINT as preventative medicine in the effort to combat violence. OSINT analysts can gather a lot of additional information about other activities that occurred where shots were heard, such as fights, robberies, or online postings about what people saw during that time. That information can help community care organizations, the boots on the ground, in their violence interdiction initiatives.
As folks at the NNSC note, serious violence can be reduced when law enforcement, community members, and social service providers join to engage directly with violent street groups and clearly communicate a moral message against violence. At the same time, law enforcement must identify the purveyors of violence and send a strong message about the consequences of further violence, as well as offer help to those who want – or need – it.
Next: 5 Benefits of Integrating Gunshot Detection Technology With Open-Source Intelligence