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University of Alabama to deploy gunshot detection system

May 02, 2017
Security Info Watch: University of Alabama

April 29--The University of Alabama will soon employ technology used in larger cities to detect gunshots.

The gunfire detection system called ShotSpotter has sensors that triangulate sounds of gunfire in a manner similar to cell phone technology.

"ShotSpotter real-time alerts use acoustic technology to notify local police departments precisely if, when and where gun incidents occur so officers can respond faster and more safely," said Chris Bryant, assistant director for UA's Office of Media Relations.

The sensors can distinguish between sounds similar to gunfire, such as fireworks or engine backfire.

"The benefit is the security of knowing local police will be notified in real time if a shooting ever occurs," Bryant said.

University of Alabama Police will test the listening devices after the semester ends and should have the system up and running soon, said Chief John Hooks.

UA needed permission to place audio sensors on city property, prompting a discussion among Tuscaloosa City Council members last week. Some council members asked Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson to look into possibily using the technology in the city.

Anderson said that he met with a ShotSpotter sale representative in 2009 and ultimiately decided it wasn't worth the investment of around $200,000 for one square mile of coverage.

"I decided it was not feasible to invest the limited funds in TPDs budget on ShotSpotter," he said. Anderson said he intends to contact the company again and find out whether the service has become more affordable.

Birmingham recently expanded the city's ShotSpotter technology to cover 20 square miles. City and police officials said said that it helps them to identify problems area and plan their policing accordingly.

ShotSpotter is used in about 90 cities worldwide, according to the company's website. Sensors capture the precise time, location and an audio snippet that may indicate a gunshot. Machine algorithms filter the data, which are reviewed by ShotSpotter staff at a 24/7 Incident Review Center -- a process that takes around 45 seconds, according to the company. Digital alerts are then transmitted to local 911 call centers.