ShotSpotter Frequently Asked Questions
Police rely on the community to call 9-1-1 if gunshots are fired, but only 20% of incidents are ever reported on average. This creates a situation where police departments have a large data gap that makes it difficult to be able to effectively “serve and protect” when it comes to gun violence. SoundThinking’s ShotSpotter acoustic gunshot detection technology fills the gap with a network of acoustic sensors that can detect, locate, and alert police to nearly all gunshot incidents. The system is in operation in more than 150 cities and is used by police to: 1) be able to respond to a higher percentage of gunfire incidents; 2) improve response times to crime scenes to better aid victims and find witnesses; and 3) help police locate key evidence to identify and investigate suspects.
ShotSpotter uses an array of acoustic sensors that are connected wirelessly to ShotSpotter’s centralized, cloud-based application to reliably detect and accurately locate gunshots using triangulation. Each acoustic sensor captures the precise time and audio associated with impulsive sounds that may represent gunfire. This data is used to locate the incident and is then filtered by sophisticated machine algorithms to classify the event as a potential gunshot. Acoustic experts, who are located and staffed in ShotSpotter’s 24×7 Incident Review Center, ensure and confirm that the events are indeed gunfire. They can append the alert with other critical intelligence such as whether a fully automatic weapon was fired or whether there are multiple shooters. This entire process takes less than 60 seconds from the time of the shooting to the digital alert popping onto a screen of a computer in the 911 Call Center or on a patrol officer’s smartphone or mobile laptop.
ShotSpotter is used in more than 150 cities and is highly regarded by law enforcement as a critical component of gun violence prevention and reduction strategies. ShotSpotter protects a wide range of city types and sizes ranging from urban metropolitan cities such as Chicago and New York City; to medium-sized cities such as Boston, Denver, and Oakland; and small cities with populations less than 50,000 such as Richmond, CA and Pleasantville, NJ.
Gunshot detection by itself is not a panacea for gun violence, but if used as part of a comprehensive gun crime response strategy, it can contribute to a reduction in response times, help to save the lives of GSWs, and improve evidence collection rates. Please visit Results for more details.
The ShotSpotter system is highly accurate at detecting outdoor gunshots. From 2019-2021 the system had a 97% aggregate accuracy rate across all of our customers, including a very small false positive rate of less than 0.5% of all reported gunfire incidents.
An independent privacy audit conducted by NYU’s Policing Project concluded that the risk of voice surveillance is extremely limited. Strict controls and policies ensure sensors only trigger on loud explosive or impulsive sounds that are likely gunfire. No community member’s information is obtained or used during any part of the detection or alerting process. Learn more about community privacy protections here.
ShotSpotter provides police with a tool to respond to and investigate gunshot incidents in a more precise area compared to the 9-1-1 system to avoid canvassing entire blocks or neighborhoods. There is zero data supporting the claim that ShotSpotter puts police on high alert or creates dangerous situations. Rather, ShotSpotter equips police officers with more information than they might typically have when arriving to the scene of a gunshot incident, and they arrive at the scene more situationally aware. Additionally, ShotSpotter provides intelligence that allows police to coordinate a safe and efficient response, requiring fewer resources, and in a way that can enhance community trust.
Right now, we do not have a solution for individual community members. However, you can write a letter to your local elected officials to request ShotSpotter for your neighborhood.
Regardless of whether your city has deployed ShotSpotter, you should still call 9-11- and notify the police. You may not be in a ShotSpotter coverage area as it typically doesn’t cover an entire city. Over 80% of gun crimes go unreported and your call could help save lives. If you’re in a city that has not deployed ShotSpotter, consider reaching out to your local police department or local city council to express your concerns about public safety and to see if they have any plans to implement gunshot detection technology.
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