ShotSpotter ‘promising’ for police

Los Angeles resident Curtis Baxter, the 28-year-old man who was shot in the right side of his stomach at 31 Whalley Ave. on Monday evening, is still in critical condition, police officials said Tuesday. But without the recently installed ShotSpotter system, things may have been much worse.

After a year of planning and installation, New Haven’s new ShotSpotter technology was launched this weekend. A wide-area acoustic surveillance system designed to triangulate gunshot positions, the new system alerted police officers to last night’s shooting. Although officials are unsure how the ShotSpotter will affect the case, they are confident that the new technology will continue to aid in quickly dispatching officers.

New Haven police department spokesperson Joe Avery said no one reported the shooting last night. But at 7:17 p.m., the ShotSpotter detected what sounded like a gunshot in the Popeye’s parking lot on Whalley Avenue., Avery said.

NHPD Lieutenant Robert Mullen said the ShotSpotter is specifically designed to detect the type of loud, concussive burst that could belong to gunshots or fireworks. He added that the information collected about the noise may be useful as investigators move forward with Baxter’s case.

New Haven’s ShotSpotter network comprises 22 sensors placed primarily on rooftops across a 1.5-mile square in downtown New Haven. In the event of a loud noise, three sensors will focus on the source in order to determine its location within four feet. They then send the location and auditory information to the on-duty dispatch officers, who look at a graph of the noise to figure out what it is. Numerous gunshots, for example, create several high-volume spikes that steadily decline, a distinction that officers call “the Christmas-tree effect,” Mullen said.

The system, which was installed and tested in the past weeks, was made possible by a federal grant from the Department of Justice on the order of $500,000.

“I think it’s a very promising system,” Rob Smuts ’01, chief administrative officer for the city, said. “The department is always looking for new tools and new ways to enhance their ability to promote public safety.”

The ShotSpotter will decrease dispatch lag time by five to seven minutes, Mullen said, adding that this is a valuable window in which to collect information.

“Detectives rely on trace evidence,” he said. “In law enforcement we try to use every tool available.”

He added that being forewarned of what the source of a noise disturbance is may also increase officer safety. But, Mullen explained, even seemingly harmless sounds — like fireworks, he said — will still be investigated as if they were gunshots.

While the system is currently functional, technicians are still tweaking it, testing connections and responses; Mullen said there is currently no firm date by which the system will be finalized. And there is a possibility the ShotSpotter may not be permanent. But Smuts said given the relatively low $50,000 annual upkeep, there is no reason not to employ the system.

“If it proves useful, then we’ll probably keep it,” he said.

ShotSpotter systems are currently used in 45 cities and counties across the United States, including Dallas, Texas, and Los Angeles, Calif. Mullen added that public awareness of the safety systems has not decreased gun use in cities that use the ShotSpotter.

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