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ShotSpotter Spreads West

June 02, 2016

The next time gunfire erupts on Davenport or Edgewood Avenue, the police department will find out even before someone calls 911.

That’s because the police have expanded their use of the ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology from the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods to a third of the city, spanning from Ella Grasso Boulevard to Goodrich Street to include the Hill, Dwight, West River, Edgewood, and Beaver Hills.

At a press conference Thursday at 1 Union Ave., police officials, who previously reported plans for the expansion in April, unveiled a map showing the precise geographic region covered by the expansion. As of last week, the detection service –  a network of audio sensors that alert polices officers via mobile phone to the location of gunshot noises –  now covers more than triple the 1.5 square miles of coverage introduced in New Haven in 2009.

“The information generated by this system provides the when, where, and what about shots fired with remarkable accuracy and in short order,” Mayor Toni Harp said at the press conference. “ShotSpotter provides a high-tech complement to New Haven’s existent reliance on old-fashioned, tried-and-true, boots-on-the-ground, community-based policing.”

ShotSpotter is designed to reduce police response time to shootings, as well as record the number of guns involved. The sensors route data on each gunshot to an “incident review center” at the company’s headquarters in California, where analysts review the information to eliminate false reports and then notify local police officers equipped with the ShotSpotter phone application. The entire process takes less than a minute.

Lt. Herb Johnson, pictured at right Thursday with Esserman, spearheaded the expansion of ShotSpotter.
A report released by ShotSpotter in March showed a 38.5-percent decrease in detected gunfire from 2014 to 2015. And over the last four years, the city has seen significant drops in homicides, non-fatal shootings and shots fired, according to Police Department data.

At Thursday’s press conference, Police Chief Dean Esserman attributed that improvement as much to the work of individual officers as to the success of the new technology.

“I put everything on the cops,” Esserman said. “Technology is as good as those who use it. We think we’re matching great technology with great cops.”

Esserman added that the ShotSpotter sensors have not produced a single false positive in the last year. And he brushed aside concerns that the technology might threaten the privacy of ordinary citizens, saying the sensors are designed to pick up gunshot sounds rather than conversation.

The expansion of the service, detailed on national Gun Violence Awareness Day, represents one facet of a broader effort to curb shootings across the country. At the press conference, Harp cited grim statistics on gun deaths in the United States to illustrate the scale of a nationwide epidemic that she said has created “untenable, preventable carnage.”

New Haven was the first city in Connecticut to implement ShotSpotter. Over the last seven years, dozens of cities across the United States have followed suit. In New York, where the technology hit the streets last March, the police department has already made 11 arrests associated with the audio sensors.

The spread of ShotSpotter technology worldwide has not only helped prosecute gun crimes perpetrated against people. At Kruger National Park in South Africa, ShotSpotter alerts have also led to the arrests of several rhinoceros poachers, as well the rescue of a baby rhino whose mother had been shot.

New Haven Independent