Schenectady police are gearing up to deploy gunshot detection technology.
There are many neighborhoods where hearing shots fired is the norm. But those shots can be heard, and tracked, by more than the human ear as police turn to high-tech solutions to deter gun violence.
Gunshot detection systems have been around for nearly two decades, having a hit and miss history in the region: Troy, New York employed one between 2009 and 2012, but logged too many false alarms and subsequently scrapped it. Police in Springfield, Massachusetts began using the technology in 2008 and have expanded the coverage area a few times since, with police crediting it in part for the city’s declining crime rate. "This allows police an advantage. We respond within 15 seconds of shots being fired and a lot of times arrests are made and evidence is gathered. It helps us tremendously with gunfire incidents."
Now, Schenectady is ready to audition ShotSpotter alongside other acoustic sensor technology. The sensors have the advantage of working as plug-in modules on the Electric City's new LED streetlight system. ShotSpotter consists of a network of strategically placed outdoor microphones. ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark: "ShotSpotter uses network sensors combined with software. The sensors are designed to ignore ambient noise but to recognize and timestamp impulsive noise, pops booms and bangs. When a gun is fired, that sound will emanate out and hit each sensor at a slightly different time. We're able to take the time differential to be able to pinpoint the exact location of that gunfire, then go through a couple of classification steps. A machine classification step and then a human review classification step, before publishing a rich digital alert within 30 to 45 seconds of the gun being fired."
Triangulated gunshot information is sent to laptop computers in police cars. Officers can then investigate incidents of gunfire that otherwise might go unreported. Schenectady Police Sergeant Nick Mannix: "It's like another gadget or tool on our tool belt, just to help us solve crimes, to get there in a relatively short amount of time from the initial incident. You know the feedback that we've seen on it has been fairly good, so it's more or less just trying to wait and see and actually get it up and running."
Independent City Councilor Vince Riggi says SpotShotter is funded in the police budget. "I think it's about $180,000 a year for the contract with the company. From my research on it, I mean, yes I hope that it works, and it's gonna work as advertised, but just doing some research it seems like there seems to be a lot of flaws in this. A lot of false positives it seems like with this, and we don't wanna be deploying our officers, who are pretty well spread out now, to something where there's something like that going off, so, I have some concerns with it."
ShotSpotter is used in more than 100 U.S. cities including Pittsfield, Hartford, Newburgh, Syracuse, Rochester and New York City. Schenectady expects to have its system up and running by the end of the year in neighborhoods where the majority of shots-fired calls are logged.