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Sandusky police considers gunfire-locater system

January 28, 2016

The technology isn’t quite faster than a speeding bullet.

But tracking down gunshots never seemed quicker for Sandusky police officers, who in past weeks have dealt with a severe upswing in firearms-related activity.

To counter such crime, city officials are examining possible benefits of installing technology which would recognize and then locate where a weapon discharges from.

With help from Sandusky police Chief John Orzech and ShotSpotter, the company operating this technology, here’s a summary of the equipment:

Q: What is ShotSpotter?

A: In a nutshell, ShotSpotter can pinpoint the precise location of where someone fires a gunshot within seconds.

The technology incorporates several acoustic sensors, placed atop buildings or other high spots, covering a certain area.

Whenever gunfire happens within a zone, sensors can triangulate these noises and provide coordinates of where it occurs.

The device can also differentiate between a gunshot and similar-sounding noises, such as fireworks or a loud, booming car exhaust.

Each time a gunshot is fired, an alert then goes to local dispatch centers, patrol cars and smartphones handled by first responders, notifying them of the incident. ShotSpotter employees, working in a centralized dispatching hub, also receive the data and can directly communicate with local authorities about the incident.

Local authorities can also leverage data to determine where problematic areas exist. Commanders can then schedule cops to patrol these areas more aggressively in hopes of deterring crime in proven hot zones.

Q: What’s the step-by-step guide of how this technology works?

A: The company provided a six-step approach for how the device functions:

1. A gun is fired, and the sound of an explosion radiates.

2. Multiple ShotSpotter sensors throughout a coverage area trigger.

3. The location of gunfire is pinpointed within seconds.

4. ShotSpotter experts, specializing in gunfire and acoustics, review and classify the data.

5. Qualified alerts go to local dispatch centers and mobile units, handled by area law enforcement officials, so they can immediately respond to the scene.

6. Within moments, officers arrive to the precise gunshot location with greater situational awareness and preparedness.

Q: Why would Sandusky police be interested in this technology?

JO: The ShotSpotter product will allow the department to hone in on specific areas where shots are being fired in the city, and (it will) enable us to investigate those incidents more quickly, effectively and efficiently.

We are looking at ways to provide a safer community for our citizens and visitors through technologies or programs that can aid in achieving that goal.

The ShotSpotter will put our officers in a narrow, small grid to search for evidence of shots being fired, investigative leads and possibly a quick apprehension of the suspect(s). The ShotSpotter will also vet out the calls of "shots fired,“ which more often times than not are fireworks.

Q: How will the technology specifically work in Sandusky?

JO: The activation of ShotSpotter will be under a minute and will go directly to the officers cruiser mobile data terminals. This will allow for a more rapid response.

If we get a call of a shots fired-nature today, we usually get a call such as, "I heard shots fired somewhere east of Camp Street.” With buildings and noise echo, that could put our officers essentially trying to find a needle in a haystack.

The ShotSpotter will give a triangulated coordinate and put us at the scene of the shots fired call.

At this point, we are preparing data to send to ShotSpotter to get a data-driven map of where hot zones would be within the city, as determined by information from 2014 and 2015. The locations of the devices will be determined by coverage areas of where we have the most calls for service for these types of incidents.

Q: How much would it cost? Where would Sandusky install the technology if the plan goes forward?

JO: We haven’t gotten into specifics. I believe it will be around $65,000 a square mile with a minimum of three square miles. That is an annual cost.

Note: Sandusky officials said they would search for grant opportunities to help offset the cost. It’s not yet known where the devices could go.

Q: Who else uses this technology?

JO: We have spoken with the Youngstown and Canton police departments, which are two agencies in Ohio that have ShotSpotter.

We will be making site visits to these organizations in the next couple of months. Canton has a robust program, where two officers are specifically deployed with the ShotSpotter data that is collected.

Sandusky Register