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Newburgh City Council may vote on gunshot sensors

January 06, 2017
Time-Herald Record, Newburgh

The sounds were as chilling as death.

Six rapid-fire gunshots unleashed on a street corner. Then a recording of gun-battle shots.

"Three rounds and four rounds returning fire," Jack Pontius said Thursday after playing for Newburgh's City Council a series of recordings of real gunfire incidents from different cities.

The audio was recorded by ShotSpotter, a system of gunfire sensors that Pontius' company, Newark, Calif.-based SST Inc., has installed in more than 90 cities around the world.

Last month Newburgh's Council postponed a vote on spending $351,000 for an 18-month subscription in which SST would blanket nearly the entire city with audio sensors. A new vote is expected when the council meets on Monday evening.

Not only would the system be an antidote to the vast number of shootings that are never reported to police, but it would allow patrol officers to respond quickly to a precise location when gunshots are fired, Pontius and Newburgh Lt. Richard Carrion told the Council.

Chances increase that officers catch suspects before they flee the area by car or on foot, or collect evidence such as shell casings, they said. Cities using ShotSpotter average a 35 percent reduction in gunfire the first two years, said Pontius, SST's northeastern region director.

"We now provide a very precise location - front yard, backyard," he said. "We can give you the speed and direction of a drive-by. We can tell you how many shooters - basically what types of weapons are being fired."

Newburgh's administration is proposing to use federal Community Development Block Grant funds to subscribe to the service and have SST install sensors that cover 3 square miles of the 3.8-square-mile city. The decision to use city funds came after an application for federal funding was rejected.

If gunshots are detected, workers at SST's operations center would relay the information to Newburgh's police dispatch center and the on-board computers in patrol cars.

SST's operations center relays to patrol officers and the department's dispatch center in about 30 seconds, giving a location that is accurate to within 10 feet, according to Pontius.

Even if no suspect is caught, collecting shell casings can help detectives link the weapons used to other cases, Carrion said.

"It's very hard to pinpoint where we need to be looking," Carrion said. "When this system can put us within 10 feet of an incident, it makes it a lot easier for us to gather that physical evidence that can help link some of these guns to different shootings."