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Technology, policing reducing gun crime in Canton

November 20, 2015

Knowing exactly where gun shots are fired even before a call to 911, that's the advantage of a relatively new technology to assist officers in their efforts to curb crime in Canton.

CANTON -- Knowing exactly where gunshots are fired, even before a call is made to 911, is the advantage of a relatively new technology used to assist officers in their efforts to curb crime.

In the summer of 2013, every police cruiser was equipped with ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection and location service. Police Lieutenant John Gabbard describes it as an acoustic surveillance system, which measures gunshot frequency. When a shot is fired, the data is sent to a center in San Francisco, where it's immediately reviewed and sent back to Canton with information on whether the sound was in fact a gun shot.

"We were lucky to recover shell casings before," explains Gabbard. "With this system, we're able to get an exact location of where that shot happened."'

Historically, in Canton, gun violence has been elevated above the national average. Before acquiring ShotSpotter, the department was looking for technology and tools that would help increase their ability to analyze crime. Gabbard says the success of the system and community policing have helped to alleviate fear of crime in neighborhoods and build confidence.

He also admits they have a lot of work to do. "One gunshot is too many. There's no reason to be hearing gunshots in any place. Nobody should live with the thought there are guns being fired anywhere near their house in a city setting."

Crime analysis showing the most concentrated areas of gun violence and gun-related crime was used to place ShotSpotter sensors strategically and secretly within three square miles of the city.

Click to see Canton Shots Fired Reduction Statistics

The system allows officers to listen to the shots or any other noise at a scene before they arrive. "Instead of having to go hunt, we're able to go directly to where the shots were fired," explains Canton Police Officer Frank Ranalli. "We listen to whether or not we have multiple shots, we may have multiple guns being fired. It gives us a better idea of what we need to be looking for."

Gabbard says the system has also helped them collect more evidence, so even if they don't catch the shooter right away, they might be able to link cases together in the future.

Canton Police statistics show a reduction in shots fired reports in the city since June of 2013. The first 10 months of 2015 compared to 2014 show nearly 35 percent fewer ShotSpotter activation.

For a three-year contract, the city is paying a total of $320,000 for the system. The cost could be one reason why it's not used in more jurisdictions in Northeast Ohio.

"You can't put a price on being an effective police department, and you can't put a price on being a good community partner," says Gabbard. "I can't put a price tag on lowering our shot fired by 40 percent."