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February 23, 2016

One of the first and most prominent things people see when they open the web page for the Canton, Ohio Police Department is a bold, capitalized link to click for information on a gunfire alert and analysis system used by the department to help combat crime. Chief Bruce Lawver, now in his fourth year, wants to make sure the community and potential offenders are well aware that in Canton, violent crime and gun violence will not be tolerated. With the technology in place for more than two years, gunfire incidents have decreased by nearly one-third per year, citizen engagement is up while there are fewer calls for service, and evidence collection has increased by nearly four times.

Combating Violent Crime

When Chief Lawver was promoted to his post in early 2013, the most pressing issue he faced was addressing violent crime in the urban city of 75,000 residents. In urban areas, like Canton, it is believed that only some 20% of gunshots are even called in to the police, for many reasons—including gunfire fatigue where citizens are so used to gunfire that they become desensitized, or they are not sure if they actually hear gunshots, they think their neighbor will call, or in some cases the fear of retaliation.

At the time Chief Lawver took the reins of the 150 person department, the idea of using gunfire detection technology was already being explored as a more effective way to improve public safety. After considering their options, ShotSpotter –- already used successfully by dozens of law enforcement agencies across the country -- was the system that he and his team felt could be most beneficial for the department and the community.

Getting the Word Out

Chief Lawver said that from the very beginning, even before the department began implementing ShotSpotter and testing it, they made sure to widely promote the technology and the benefits to the community. Furthermore, as a major budget item and business decision, it was critical that there was buy-in from the city, community and the department at large.

“We wanted to engage the citizens and make them aware that public safety would be greatly improved,” said Lawver. “But equally, if not more importantly, we wanted to get the word out to offenders and potential offenders that this new system was going to change the game in our favor. I believe it is a powerful psychological tool since criminals don’t really know where it is or isn’t activated.”

Real-Time Gunshot Alerts

Set up to cover a three square mile radius, the ShotSpotter system is a gunfire detection system that provides precise real-time gunshot alerts, enabling Canton officers to make informed decisions for faster and more accurate emergency response. The technology instantly notifies police officers of gunshot crimes in progress with real-time data delivered to dispatch centers, patrol cars and even smart phones, all in under 45 seconds. .

First responders are able to arrive more quickly, while also being better prepared to act with improved situational intelligence such as precise location for aiding victims, number of shots fired, number of shooters, type of weapon, etc. Previously, law enforcement would have to rely on citizens to call in reports of gunfire and then they would respond to a general area with little knowledge of what they would find at the scene, or if they were even dealing with gunshots.

“Now, instead of relying on phone calls, we are proactive and on the scene almost immediately. Since we deployed ShotSpotter, we have seen our average monthly activations drop 31 percent in 2014 and again by 35 percent in 2015,” explained Lawver. “We know it is working as we have fewer gun-related crime overall and now we can much better handle and resolve each case.”

Integrated Throughout Department

Since ShotSpotter was adopted, the Canton Police Department has done some reorganizing to take full advantage of the new technology. First the department worked with SST Inc., the company behind ShotSpotter, to install and test the system in the designated area. During this time, they also collaborated to have all officers trained in the use of ShotSpotter, as well as undergo new training to address situations where they would be on the scene