Grant to fund gunshot detection

New Haven streets may soon see the benefits of cutting-edge, crime-fighting technology — $374,120 worth.

Members of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee on Wednesday night approved a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for the installation of a ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system in the city. The system, which pinpoints the source of a gunshot using sound sensors, will help officers from the New Haven Police Department respond to gunfire more quickly and accurately, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said.

The Public Safety Committee retroactively approved applications for this grant and three others — all sponsored by the federal government — in the hopes of obtaining new technology to increase NHPD effectiveness.

The ShotSpotter program will allow police to pinpoint the source of a gunshot from a distance of one to 1.5 miles away, using sound sensors installed throughout New Haven neighborhoods. The sensors are able to distinguish gunshots from other loud noises, such as the sound of a jackhammer or a car backfiring. But, the funding provided by the grant will only allow the city to purchase a ShotSpotter setup for a 1.5-square-mile area. Smuts said city officials will choose the area for installation based on reported gunshot data — the neighborhood with the highest number of reported gunshots per year will receive the ShotSpotter system.

The receipt of the gunshot-detection grant is “a pretty sure thing,” Smuts said. The grant has already been earmarked for New Haven, he said, and will allow NHPD officers to more effectively utilize their time by investigating only real gunshots and not other sounds mistakenly called in by residents.

Currently, Smuts said, only 57 percent of gunshots reported by residents are discovered by police to be actual gunshots. The other 43 percent of reported gunshots — 237 complaints per year — are found to be unsubstantiated, he said.

ShotSpotter Senior Vice President Gregg Rowland said at the meeting last night that the number of documented gunshots will immediately spike once the ShotSpotter sensors are installed. This jump, he said, will only reflect the increased ability to detect gunshots, not an actual increase in gun activity.

Directly after installing the ShotSpotter system, ShotSpotter representatives partnered with NHPD officials will perform test fires in the targeted neighborhoods to ensure that the ShotSpotter technology is working. The company will also perform occasional tests on each of the gunshot sensors, although “if a sensor isn’t working, your community gunfire will take care of that,” Rowland said to the members of the Public Safety Committee.

Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes, visibly perturbed, interrupted after Rowland’s comment.

“I don’t think we should leave it up to our community to test out your technology,” Antunes said.

Rowland then apologized for his “flippant” comment.

In addition to the grant aimed at purchasing a ShotSpotter system for the city, the Public Safety Committee approved applications for three other federal policing grants, although these grants are extremely “competitive,” Smuts said, and it is not guaranteed that the city will receive them. Among these is a grant for $141,795 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant Program, which will provide for technology to increase communication between NHPD officers and community blockwatch members.

Contact MARTINE POWERS at martine.powers@yale.edu 

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