A victim lies motionless on the streets of Wilmington, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the chest. A matter of seconds can mean life or death in this situation, and police and first-responders rapidly race to his aid in record time. All of this is done without a single witness picking up the phone and dialing 911. ShotSpotter technology comes to the rescue instead.
Sporadically located throughout all of downtown, though it sounds like something straight out of an episode of “CSI,” ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors to triangulate the location of gunfire with stunning accuracy. Its world-class team of gunshot experts in California review the information and assess it to make sure it is, in fact, a gunshot and not simply a backfire from a car or a firecracker. Once the sensory signifies it clearly, the system alerts local authorities.
“[It] will tell police the precise location where the gunshots are going off and that includes the longitude and latitude,” a ShotSpotter representative, Lydia Barrett, Barrett, explains. The experts are able to tell local authorities within 20 or 30 seconds pertinent information, like if gunfire is from an assault weapon or even if there are multiple shooters in an area.
“It benefits Wilmington because we’re able to respond so much faster to the calls,” Captain Jeff Allsbrook of Wilmington PD says. “We’re notified almost immediately whereas before we had ShotSpotter we were relying on citizens to call 911 or officers actually hearing shots within their vicinity.”
In fact, ShotSpotter not only provides specific locations within the coverage area of incidents, but it can track the direction and speed of the suspected shooter as they flee from the scene.
The system was funded by a $300,000 federal technology grant and became operational in November. The grant will expire in September 2013, and it will cost $120,000 to renew the subscription.
“We put the ShotSpotter sensors up in our historically high-crime areas where there have been the most instances of violence,” Captain Allsbrook explains. It has worked because many of these instances would often otherwise go unreported to police. “Some of the neighborhoods just get complacent with calling in.”
“Only about 20 percent of gun incidents are called into 911,” Barrett confirms. People often fear reporting or question whether what they’ve heard is gunfire. Oftentimes, many people just assume someone else will alert police, a phenomenon known as the bystander effect. ShotSpotter provides local law enforcement more accurate and detailed information than a typical 911 call.
Since ShotSpotter’s development in 1995, it has become a popular surveillance tool. The company reports that agencies using the technology, in addition to comprehensive crime-reduction strategies, have seen a decrease in urban gunfire by up to 80 percent. Likewise, related rates of violent crime reduced by as much as 40 percent.
In the city of Rochester, New York, police officials have seen a 43 percent reduction in gunfire since the system went live. So far, results in Wilmington are promising, with police making 11 arrests with the help of ShotSpotter. Barrett emphasizes that her company’s technology also helps police walk onto a scene much more safely; therefore, they often conduct better investigations.
“Police can find gun casings [and] witnesses faster,”she says, “and are really able to hone in on their investigations quickly. They don’t have to walk around a 5- or 10-block area looking for information.”
Fifty-two cities throughout the country are currently running the system. Wilmington and Rocky Mount will be the first two in North Carolina to benefit from this technology. “All the patrol officers are excited about this new technology,” Captain Allsbrook reports.
“Our goal as a company is to bring in the technology to help communities create real gun violence reduction initiatives,” Barrett continues. “We’re thrilled to have that opportunity in Wilmington.”