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How to Improve Police Success with ShotSpotter

Illegal and reckless gunfire plagues far too many neighborhoods around the United States, and with over 300 million guns in circulation, the idea that we can quickly diminish accessibility through police action is a fantasy – so what can be done?

ShotSpotter Flex coupled with tested law enforcement strategies has proven to be a useful tool for police agencies interested in reducing gunfire and gun violence in their cities, but even using this proven science requires a multi-faceted effort to be truly effective.

First and foremost, chiefs must make gun violence reduction their top priority, or this type of program effort is destined to fail. In 2012, a large Southern city acquired ShotSpotter Flex as part of a National Security Special Event (NSSE). That agency did nothing differently in their ShotSpotter coverage area, e.g. no additional resources dedicated to follow up on reported gunfire, no change in evidence collection or forensic procedures, not even a written General Order to guide their efforts.  What was the result? Very little additional evidence collected, very few arrests, very few firearms recovered, and worst of all, no improvement in police-community relations in the affected neighborhoods. How can that be?

My father always said “you get out what you put in,” and that old chestnut is directly applicable to ShotSpotter Flex deployments and gun violence reduction. The city cited above merely put up a sensor array expecting miraculous results and was disappointed when they proved elusive. To truly get the most of a ShotSpotter deployment, cities must implement best practices and plans to ensure that the alerts coming in get responded to and that there is a team in place and a Chief that is committed to reducing gun violence in their city.

Here is a list of the six best practices that successful ShotSpotter cities have used

1. Champion: Appointed a strong, respected internal “champion” and introduced an effort to let agency personnel know about the program and what is expected.

2. Process: Created a written general order/SOP codifying procedures and expectations. Combined new gun violence reduction efforts with ongoing community policing programs.

3. Training: Instituted continuous training for all personnel including patrol officers, tactical teams, dispatchers, detectives, crime analysts and District Attorneys/prosecutors.

4. Allocated Resources: Reallocated patrol, investigative, and analytical resources to staff and support of the ShotSpotter program.

5. Tracking and Analysis of Data: Applied smart use of ballistic imaging technology coupled with streamlined evidence collection and information dissemination processes and conducted along with careful analysis of data as it becomes available to determine neighborhood trends.

6. Commitment to Reducing Gun Violence: Adopted a “zero tolerance” attitude towards gunfire and gun violence

On average, cities who deploy ShotSpotter have realized an approximate 35% reduction in gunfire year-over-year. That means if a neighborhood started out recording 100 shots per night they can expect to be down to 65 at the end of the first year, with additional reductions likely in subsequent years.

Additionally, through use of the strategies outlined above, police agencies can expect further reductions just through removing specific shooters from ShotSpotter covered neighborhoods. Why? Because those individuals who had been willing to randomly shoot guns will have learned the consequences of their reckless action, (i.e. - a rapid, accurate police response), and will stop shooting because they fear arrest. Those remaining are the “serial shooters,” neighborhood predators and opportunists whose activities have already placed them on a “Top 10” list for extra police attention. ShotSpotter Flex will point them out making it much easier for cops to remove these shooters from the communities they have long terrorized.

Reducing gunfire and violence takes dedication and real work towards change management.  In 2016, data-driven policing, and connection to the community, are the operative concepts. ShotSpotter offers the opportunity to understand and address the full scope of gunfire in a neighborhood, build bridges to the underserved, and make a real difference by improving people’s lives.


March 24, 2016
By: Mark D. Jones, Sr. Director, Customer Success