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Salinas cops get gunshot location system

September 01, 2016

The short-staffed Salinas Police Department received new tools to improve their ability to combat gun violence as well as to improve police-community relations with the acceptance of $5.5 million from the state this week.

In June, the California Legislature passed a $171 billion budget that included the City of Salinas to receive $5.5 million for gang and violence prevention efforts.

The funding was distributed to include $3.5 million to purchase property and/or facilities to improve police-community relations, $1.5 million for three years of equipment and subscription to the gunfire location system ShotSpotter Flex, and $500,000 for three years of violence interrupter positions.

The Salinas Police Department’s future police facility, still in planning phases, will be located on property at 312 East Alisal Street, and $3.5 million of the state funding will go toward buying additional land around to be used for community relations.

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin said he has long envisioned creating a positive reason for people to come to the police department. The additional land will be used for something like green, open space that can accommodate community events and activities.

“How cool would it be to come to the Thursday night farmer’s market at the police department? A summer night concert series? A little half-court basketball court set-up like we have at Cesar Chavez Park where kids form the neighborhood have to walk into the police department to check out a basketball,” he said in providing examples of what the space could be.

“Typically, if someone comes here, they’ve been a victim, they’ve been a suspect, they’ve got their car towed, they were victims of a crime and are picking up property, they’re identifying someone,” McMillin explained. “It’s just never good news and that needs to change. I believe that’s a fundamental missing component of our police-community relationship.”

“It’s just pure positive relationship building so when these kids grow up, they have no fear of walking into the police department,” he added.

The state funding also will go toward ShotSpotter Flex, which uses sonic sensors placed throughout the city in areas where gunfire is most likely to occur, based on data collected on shootings in the area the past two years.

McMillin has been looking into getting the gunfire location system for years. The Salinas Police Department has worked with the Navy Postgraduate School on other policing initiatives in the past, and during a conversation on how to make Salinas safer, NPS expressed interest in funding ShotSpotter for Salinas.

The company was brought to town to do an assessment of how it could be used here as well as provided an estimate on how much it would cost. The total was too much for them to cover at the time, but the experience provided a rudimentary plan to have the tool here in the future.

“When we got this funding, we called them, and they said, basically, to dust off the old plans, let’s update it,” McMillin said.

Twenty-five of the 27 homicides investigated by Salinas police this year involved victims who died from gunshot wounds.

With ShotSpotter, once the gunfire is electronically detected by the sensors, the information is sent to a ShotSpotter engineer in their processing center who will immediately confirm that it’s gunfire and not fireworks, a car backfiring, or something else. ShotSpotter does not include a video component or recording of voices

“We’re going to know generally in less than one minute exactly when, where and how many shots were fired in our city,” McMillin said.

Before, police were reliant on people calling in when they hear gunfire, and then officers would have to go and try and find where it actually happened. The delay in being able to locate where the shooting occurred resulted in suspects getting away or victims not getting care as quickly as they should.

On Tuesday, at least 15 minutes passed after a man was shot in Chinatown before anyone notified police, and when officers arrived, they had to search the area to find the victim.

“In basic trauma care, seconds matter, minutes matter, hours matter depending on the nature of the injury … For someone who’s shot and has a slow bleed, the 15 minutes that are spent while we’re looking for you, that’s the difference between life and death,” McMillin said.

The quicker and more accurate response will also increase the police officers’ chances at apprehension.

“Hopefully the message gets out to people who are doing the shooting that it’s a much more high risk venture for them now so it just makes the few officers we have more efficient and more effective,” McMillin said.

The $500,000 allocated to the city’s Community Safety Division will go toward hiring and outfitting two street outreach specialists over three years. The monies will also go toward funding for training on things like crisis intervention and response, grief counseling, sexual abuse counseling and street outreach training from the Urban Peace Institute.

The Californian: Salinas