« Back to News

Sound evidence: ShotSpotter speeds police response to crime scenes

January 28, 2016

The latest technological innovation in the Pittsburgh Police Bureau is already paying off.

The ShotSpotter system, which helps police respond faster and more precisely to gunshots, was set up in 2014 in a 3-square-mile area from East Hills to Garfield in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. Its most recent success came last week when the rapid notification helped officers arrest a homicide suspect.

Here’s how it works: A set of 16 sensors per square mile picks up “snap, crackle and pop” sounds but, unlike the human ear, ShotSpotter usually can distinguish between gunfire and other noises, such as a car engine backfiring. The system can pinpoint the origin of the sound and, within seconds, send it to law enforcement computers. In turn, officers already out in cars or on foot can be dispatched. That’s quicker than waiting for a resident to call 911, and it narrows the search area.

ShotSpotter alerted police to gunfire at 1:53 a.m. on Jan. 22 at Cliff’s Bar & Grill on North Lang Avenue, and officers chased a fleeing car to Wilkinsburg, where a suspect was charged with killing a 29-year-old woman.

City council authorized spending $194,000 to install the system and operate it through 2015, and now it’s time to renew the service. Councilman Ricky Burgess presented a resolution that would allow the city to spend another $135,000 to keep ShotSpotter running through 2016.

It’s rare for results from new devices to be so clear and convincing. ShotSpotter has proved its worth, and council should OK renewing the city’s contract with the Newark, Calif., company. ShotSpotter has become an important tool that can help police officers and city residents.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette