Does SST Prevent Gun Violence?
Frequently I’m asked if ShotSpotter prevents gun violence. The answer to this question is yes, in the same way smoke detectors help prevent the spread of fire.
Just as firefighters understand that where there’s smoke there’s fire, police officers know as shootings increase, time is short before someone gets shot.
Unlawfully discharging a weapon is a crime that requires investigation. Like smoke is a warning of fire, illegal gunfire is confirmation that an active shooter is on the loose and violence is about to spread.
Fire Departments rely on alarms to provide the exact location of suspected fires. When an alert is received, firefighters respond, investigate and take action to extinguish the blaze before it has the opportunity to spread. Once the incident is contained, investigators attempt to determine the cause so that future fires may be prevented or an arsonist can be sought.
Unlike Fire Departments, however, most Police Departments rely on the public to report illegal gunfire. Unfortunately, the public only reports 1 in 5 shootings to authorities while fires are reported nearly all of the time.
Imagine the impact to any city whose Fire Department responded to only 1 in 5 fires. The example is more horrifying as we know fires unchecked are capable of destroying a city block, and in the example of the Great Chicago Fire, several square miles. Active shooters have the same deadly potential, the capability to terrorize an entire neighborhood, to bring a city to its knees until they are stopped.
In many cities that deploy ShotSpotter, police employ tactics that are welcomed by communities who had previously lost confidence in law enforcement. In South Bend, Indiana, patrol officers are directed to respond to the dot where ShotSpotter has precisely located a shooting and fan out to nearby homes asking if everyone is okay and assuring residents that authorities take all gunfire seriously.
In other cities, police routinely collect shell casings from the scene of shootings and submit this evidence to labs where advanced technology is deployed by ATF. NIBIN compares shell casings like fingerprints and can tie separate shootings to the same gun, and possibly to the same active shooter. Once shootings are linked, additional resources can be brought to bear to help identify the active shooter and bring him to justice.
In Miami Gardens, police used ShotSpotter analytics to plot previous shootings on New Year’s Eve. This empowered police to make home visits prior to the holiday and warn residents not to fire guns with reckless disregard for the lives of their neighbors. As a result, shootings on New Year’s Eve plummeted 70 percent from 129 incidents in 2012 to only 39 last year. During 2013, the Springfield, Massachusetts PD was able to render aid to 18 victims in separate shootings as a result of a ShotSpotter alert. This was truly life-saving information because police never received a 911 notification in any of the cases.
For 25 years I served on the front lines trying to prevent gun violence as a special agent for ATF. My entire professional career was spent with operators, researchers, advocates and fellow Americans who simply want the violence to stop. Before joining the team at ShotSpotter a year ago, I asked the same question I’m often asked today, ‘Does ShotSpotter prevent gun violence?’ Let’s be honest, it’s the only question that matters. I am more certain today than 12 months ago that the answer is yes, and so are our partners who continue to expand the areas where ShotSpotter provides a dome of protection over their communities that once were under siege.