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.


  • Eli Watcher

    So how many extra officers are being hired by New Haven to respond in a timely manner to these alerts?

  • Bob

    This system is not actually “used” in Dallas yet.
    Pilot project for gunshot sensors in north Oak Cliff is on hold
    06:56 AM CDT on Tuesday, October 20, 2009
    By TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News
    Plans to test a high-tech crime-fighting tool in Dallas have hit an electrifying snag.
    This spring, Dallas officials signed a $25,000 agreement with ShotSpotter, the leading maker of gunshot detection systems, to conduct a 90-day pilot project.
    ShotSpotter sensors were slated to be installed on electrical poles in a one-square-mile area in a north Oak Cliff neighborhood. The sensors work by picking up the sonic waves emitted by gunshots, triangulating the location of the gunfire and notifying 911 operators to send police.
    If the pilot went well, Dallas officials were looking to install the system in other portions of the city.
    But the project has hit an impasse over a requirement by Oncor, the area’s power line operator, that ShotSpotter sign a “pole attachment agreement” before Oncor will allow any equipment to be installed on its poles. ShotSpotter officials believe the contract would open them up to too much liability and have so far refused to sign it.
    Gregg Rowland, senior vice president of sales and marketing for ShotSpotter, said this is the first time the company has encountered this problem.
    “All of the other cities we’re in, the utilities were willing to partner with us in the fight against crime,” Rowland said earlier this month at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Denver.
    Jeamy Molina, an Oncor company spokeswoman, described the contract as standard procedure, and a way to protect Oncor company property.
    “This is something we do throughout our service area,” Molina said. “It’s not out of the ordinary. If something happens to the pole, they would be responsible.”
    Every year, Dallas averages about 16,000 random gunfire incidents. Some City Council members have been enthusiastic about the idea of gunshot detection systems.
    ShotSpotter is in more than 45 cities and counties, including San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and New Orleans.
    The system, which costs about $250,000 per square mile, has been credited with saving more than 500 lives over the past five years.
    “We actually hear it, locate it, and establish that it was gunfire,” Rowland said. “Within five seconds, we give the exact location of the gunfire and how many rounds were fired. We give them the knowledge of what they’re facing.”

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