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Georgette Braun: Gunfire detection system could help Rockford cops arrest shooters

August 17, 2015



By Georgette Braun
Rockford Register Star

Posted Aug. 16, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Updated Aug 16, 2015 at 6:29 PM

It's no secret that Rockford has a big problem with gun violence.

There were 348 shots-fired incidents reported through July in the city this year, compared with 228 last year. And of the 15 homicides this year, 12 were committed with a firearm.
Two arrests have been made in connection with the homicides. Those who know about the crimes tend to keep things secret. They fear being arrested or being considered a snitch, one who might end up in a ditch.
Enter the nonhuman devices the Rockford Police Department wants to set up that could help put shooters behind bars. Assistant Deputy Chief Mike Dalke and others were given a "table demonstration" a few weeks ago of the ShotSpotter system that Dalke hopes Rockford can put in place.

ShotSpotter is a relatively new technology; it uses sensors to pinpoint the sound of gunfire, giving cops the locations of flying bullets usually within 30 seconds. When a shot goes off in an area where sensors have been placed on utility poles or buildings, the sound is picked up by sensors that bounce information off one another to pinpoint a shooter's location. Dispatchers and patrol cars receive that GPS data and a recording of the sounds, and police head to the scene.

Such systems have been used in urban areas since the 1990s, but more cities are using them to fight violent crime. Liz Einbinder, a spokewoman for ShotSpotter, owned by SST Inc. of Newark, California, told me in an email that the system is used in more than 90 cities across the globe. Among them are New York, Chicago, Milwaukee and Peoria.

She said 26 of the 28 cities where ShotSpotter was deployed in 2013 and 2014 saw a reduction in gunfire rates, and the median reduction rate of gunfire incidents was 28.8 percent in 2014.
Does the system lead to arrests? Yes, according to a Feb. 10 story from our sister paper, the Peoria Journal Star. It said ShotSpotter had led to investigations that involved 19 shooting victims, 34 arrests and recovery of 35 firearms as a result of 358 ShotSpotter alerts in 2014. A quarter of those incidents were reported by the public.

In February, the City Council OK'd paying $459,000 for three years to cover an additional three square miles of ShotSpotter coverage. Money for the new deal would come from the city's capital budget. Peoria started ShotSpotter in 2013.

"Peoria has had a lot of good results," Dalke said. "It's worth it. It's important to do a pilot program" in Rockford.

It could cost $500,000 to put a ShotSpotter system in place for three square miles in Rockford, which encompasses 62 square miles, Dalke said. That would cover the cost of the sensors and other equipment as well as maintenance for three years. He hopes that business and health care groups would be tapped to help pay for the system.

Sensors would be placed in a crime-ridden area, such as Central Avenue and Auburn Street, Andrews and Avon streets, in the 11th Street area near Broadway, and the southeast and southwest parts of the city, Dalke said.

Einbinder said that 90 percent of the time when shots are fired, people who hear them don't call 911 because they've heard shots fired so many times before that they don't bother. Or they're "scared of the snitch factor," or they're unsure where shots were fired from so they don't call.

In Rockford, Dalke said, ShotSpotter is "one solution that will provide police with better, quicker information to do their job. It's another tool."

Dalke said a "select group of individuals are causing 90 percent of the chaos" with regard to gun crimes. One group in the news lately is the Get Money Team. Dalke said it's a "bunch of kids who are doing daring robberies and motor vehicle thefts." About 15 members of the gang have been arrested in the past several months.

Mark Karner, chief deputy of the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department, said the Get Money Team is "one of many gangs that plague the city." He said a dozen major street gangs commit much of the violent crime in the area.

"This crew is the next generation, nothing we haven't seen before," Karner said, recalling that in the 1990s in Rockford, the Gangster Disciples led by the now-jailed Karl Fort were "shooting up the city. We eradicated them, just like we will eradicate these knuckleheads. They're not necessarily smart or innovative."

Karner said the Sheriff's Department wouldn't be interested in putting a ShotSpotter system in place, mostly because the agency covers a lot of rural areas and the system is best employed in urban areas.
"Keep in mind, we're open to new enforcement techniques. But at the end of the day, what it comes down to is a strong police presence, in numbers and authority."


Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; gbraun@rrstar.com; @GeorgetteBraun