Is Worcester’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system working? 325 shots detected since 2014
February 01, 2016
WORCESTER – Since the city's police department began using the gunshot detection system ShotSpotter in early 2014, there have been 325 incidents of gunfire detected. Before the system was put in place, Worcester Police officials said 80 percent of those incidents might have been missed.
The system has helped police identify the players involved in the violence in the city or areas where gang violence is occurring. Response times to gunshot calls have been drastically cut down compared to before when police would have to wait for someone to call 911.
From May of last year until the end of January the system detected 123 incidents, Police Captain Paul B. Saucier said. Out of those incidents, there were 29 calls to 911.
"If you do the math, 94 times we responded to those neighborhoods that needed it most, when we wouldn't have if we didn't have ShotSpotter," Saucier said. "We wouldn't even have known about the shots fired unless we had an officer nearby who heard it. These people aren't calling the police for a reason. Number one they are afraid. They are afraid of what will happen and we have to give them some comfort that we are around."
Worcester ShotSpotterWorcester Police Captain Paul Saucier reviewed the ShotSpotter system in the department's Real Time Crime Center. Scott J. Croteau | MassLive.com
Saucier said the system notifies officers in about a minute. A 911 call can take 15 minutes for police to receive and it still could be a guessing game to where the shooting took place. ShotSpotter triangulates the shots to a 25-meter radius and tells officers how many rounds were shot.
The ShotSpotter system began in May 2014 when the city received CSX mitigation money to cover three-square-miles of the East side. The city is covering another three-square-miles of the city's Central and Main South areas.
The annual cost for the two sectors is $270,000 with CSX covering half. The mitigation money does run out next year and the department would have to find a way to cover the other half of the funding.
As gun violence reached a record high in 2014, city officials and police worked to try to curb the trend as it continued in the beginning of 2015. The city saw the shootings go down in 2015 and only two non-fatal shootings in October, November and December. There were 13 non-fatal shootings over the same three months in 2014.
Gun violence in Worcester is lower than other cities of the same size, but police officials said even with the low numbers, shootings still rattle neighborhoods.
"ShotSpotter is one of the most important tools we have in reducing gun violence in the community," Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said. "What this technology allows us to do is identify areas where gunfire is occurring. We have four police officers assigned to investigate every incident."
Detectives investigate the incidents, but the four officers canvass the neighborhood, check for gang activity and talk to people about issues in the area. Gemme said the layered approach of using technology and officers on the streets has helped ebb the trend of violence seen in 2014.
Having police respond quickly to gunshots can help address the fears of people living in those areas, the chief added.
"The visibility of the officers helps stabilize a neighborhood and help people living there see police are responding," Gemme said. "It lets people know the department is putting in the resources."
Sensors used to detect gunshots were placed throughout the two sectors. If the sensor picks up a sound that could be a gunshot, the information is relayed to ShotSpotter and reviewed. A notification is sent to officers' computers and smart phones. The location, number of shots fired and whether multiple shooters are involved is all sent to the officers.
More than 11,600 incidents were reviewed since Worcester started using the system with 325 incidents determined to be gunfire.
The faster response times have led to some incidents where police actually found someone with a gun. Officers scour the areas and search for ballistics evidence as well. Since May 2014, the system has helped police make 11 arrests, recover five weapons and 295 shell casings.
Saucier said the collection of shell casings can help police make cases and add charges to people involved in the violence. All of the casings are sent to the state crime lab. Just recently members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives met with Worcester Police and said the number of shell casings submissions into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network is being ramped up, the captain said.
"We can do a trace on a gun and see if it matches up with shell casings found at other scenes," Saucier said. "That allows us to match up crimes and put violent offenders away for longer with more charges."
The ability to gather intelligence about rival gang issues, violent offenders and track areas of gun violence has helped investigators keep people on their radars, Saucier said. Sometimes police find a gang members house was shot at not long after a rival gang member was shot.
"When there's multiple shots in the same area, you start to link these people together," he said.Mass Live