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Military technology cutting down gun violence in Fall River

November 06, 2015

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — From banks to hospitals and businesses, you can’t go many places these days without being caught on camera.

In Fall River, it’s more than eyes watching – it’s also ears listening in an effort to curb gun violence.

In place since late 2012, the former military technology, now branded ShotSpotter, uses acoustic sensors to monitor a three-square mile section of Fall River for gunshots.

“I would be nervous if I was a criminal to tell you the truth,” said Fall River Police Sargent Kevin Medeiros of the ShotSpotter system’s effectiveness.

When a suspected shot is fired, the sound wave is sent to the ShotSpotter headquarters in California where technicians sift out the backfiring cars and fireworks from the actual gunshot.

If the sound is in fact a gunshot, a dispatcher back at the Fall River Police Department is notified and police are sent to the approximate location of where the gunshot was fired.

“The ShotSpotter makes that easy where it can say that the suspect fired three rounds, he followed back with two rounds and you can hear the difference of the caliber of weapons that were used,” Sgt. Medeiros told Eyewitness News.

ShotSpotter has been used in large cities like New York and Boston but officials say it has had its greatest success in Fall River.

According to Fall River Police, officers responded to 107 shots fired calls in 2012. ShotSpotter went fully live in January 2013. That year the number of shots fired calls dropped to 43. In 2014, 42 shots fired calls were made.

The ShotSpotter system isn’t exact but police say it will get authorities to within the distance of two football fields of where a shot is fired – narrowing down their search zone and their possible witnesses.

Fall River Mayor Sam Sutter secured the funding for ShotSpotter when he was Bristol County District Attorney.

“It helps you solve fatal shootings and nonfatal shootings,” said Sutter.

However, Fall River’s mayor admits it’s hard to credit any one tool. Sutter says ShotSpotter does provide police with more information than a call from the public.

“It accelerates the response time of the police department so within a matter of literally seconds, police officers are on the scene, collecting evidence,” Sutter said.

That’s what happened last fall when Fall River’s ShotSpotter system heard gunfire that wasn’t reported by the public. It led police to an intersection, a shell casing, a stolen gun and gun charges against a Dorchester man.

ShotSpotter is live in more than 47 cities throughout the country. Police chiefs in Providence, Warwick and Cranston tell Eyewitness News they do not have plans to purchase the ShotSpotter system.

For more information on ShotSpotter, click here.