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VIPD credits ShotSpotter for gun seizures

August 05, 2015

ShotSpotter Flex technology is enabling V.I. Police officers to remove unauthorized firearms from the territory's streets.

"We are cracking down on illegal weapons," said V.I. Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. "We are making more progress than we ever have."

Since Richards took over the department in January, officers have seized 55 unauthorized weapons, finding two to three almost every weekend.

"We don't know how many guns are out there, but we keep recovering weapons based on the information received," he said.

Officers also are discovering firearms during routine contacts like traffic stops.

The growing number of weapon seizures are directly linked to the ShotSpotter Flex technology the police department first implemented in 2012, according to Richards. A $500,000 U.S. Justice Department Technology Grant in 2011 paid for the installation and initial operations of ShotSpotter Flex, which strategically places microphone sensors that track a gunshot's pitch and distance with precision seldom gleaned from 911 callers.

The technology then is able to instantaneously triangulate the sounds of gunfire to a precise location.

The police department is in the process of generating monthly reports to further understand and make use of the data provided by ShotSpotter.

"It is helping us look for patterns," Richards said. "It helps us recover weapons. Now we are targeting individuals and yielding success."

Unauthorized weapons regularly are turning up in the hands of the territory's juvenile population according to the police commissioner.

"It is the favorite tool amongst the youngsters," Richards said. "Before, it was sticks and stones that would just cause bruises and a bump to the head."

People also feel a need to protect themselves, which means some of the firearms are legally declared while others are smuggled into the territory, he said.

"Some are being tracked to Florida, and some are coming along with undocumented people," Richards said. "There are other things on board ships, and we don't know what is in all those boxes and barrels."

However, police know exactly where, when and how many shots are fired during an incident, and they will soon have video footage to enhance information the ShotSpotter Flex technology provides, which aids investigations and contributes to response time.

The cameras are part of a recent contract renewal with ShotSpotter, and they are being installed throughout St. Thomas and St. Croix, following the example of the New York City Police Department's tactics to combat firearm crimes, according to Richards.

The police department is in the process of securing grants and putting funds from several community foundations towards ShotSpotter Flex because of the positive impact the technology has on law enforcement initiatives.

"I can actually hear the shots," said Richards about the instantaneous alert the technology sends to his cell phone.

ShotSpotter also helps police track gunfire trends and hot spots.

In the past, St. Thomas areas known for high gunfire activity included Smith Bay; Garden Street and Hospital Ground; Savan; and Hidden Valley.

Today, Richards said, gunfire activity has decreased in the Tutu area and around Garden Street and Hospital Ground because of increased patrol reflecting the ShotSpotter Flex data.

ShotSpotter also indicates that gunfire incidents have increased around Long Bay, Oswald Harris Court housing community and the "Avenue" - which is 1st Avenue in Sugar Estate.

"We are now honing in on these areas," Richards said. "We will not let the other areas resurface."

On St. Croix, areas that had high gunfire activity included the JFK and Aureo Diaz housing communities, Richmond and around Frederiksted, but today those locations have also shifted, he said.

Now, according to Richards, gunshots are blasting in the Harvey Project and Estate Profit in addition to Grove Place, which includes Lorraine Village. Richards said he also suspects on some nights when there is a shooting spree across an island, it is the same people pulling the trigger because of the firing time sequence.

"We will continue to work on this despite a short staff," Richards said. "That is not an excuse. We are mandated to protect life and property, and I am going to do that."

A ShotSpotter Flex 2014 six-month study that included the St. Thomas, St. Croix and San Juan and Bayamon, Puerto Rico, found the Caribbean has 100.5 gunfire incidents per square mile, which is below the national average of 110.2 per square mile.

Using the same four locations, the study determined the Caribbean's peak gunfire time is 1 a.m., and across the nation 53 percent of all gunfire happens between Friday and Sunday.

Between 2013 and 2014, the Caribbean had the least decrease in gunfire per square mile, 5.2 percent, compared with the Northeast, which had a decrease in gunfire incidents per square mile of 39.1 percent.

The study also found that the number of bullets fired during a shooting incident increased across the nation.

In the Caribbean, it went from 4.1 bullets in 2013 to 4.7 bullets last year, increasing 15.4 percent.

- Contact Lauren Krizansky at 714-9130 or email lkrizansky@dailynews.vi.

At 12:35 a.m. on July 17, Kimari Jackson, 25, La Grande Princesse, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment for the discharge of gunfire in a housing community while engaged in a domestic dispute.

St. Croix police arrested Anthony Hazelwood, 23, Clifton Hill at 12:36 a.m. on July 18 and charged him with unauthorized weapon possession after police said Hazelwood admitted that he was the owner of a gun and ammunition, discovered under the seat that he was occupying.

V.I. Police Commissioner Delroy Richards Sr. and the V.I. Police Department are taking unauthorized weapons off the territory's streets with help from SpotSpotter Flex technology. ShotSpotter Flex issued a 2014 report aggregating gunshot data from 56 cities, including St. Thomas and St. Croix.

In the first six months of last year, ShotSpotter Flex detected a total of 19,946 separate incidents of gunfire in the cities, according to its 2014 National Gunfire Index report. Excluding holidays, there were 17,863 gunfire incidents in the coverage area in the first half of 2014, or 98.7 every day, approximately 4.1 incidents every hour.

Cities in the Caribbean in addition to St. Thomas and St. Croix that were included in the report are San Juan and Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

Regional comparison

- The Caribbean had an average of 4.1 rounds fired per incident in 2013 compared with an average of 4.7 rounds fired per incident in 2014, an increase of 15.4 percent per incident.

- The West had an average of 3.4 rounds fired per incident in 2013 and an average of 3.7 rounds fired per incident in 2014, an increase of 8.9 percent per incident.

- The Midwest had an average of 2.7 rounds fired per incident in 2013 and an average of 3.1 rounds fired per incident in 2014, an increase of 14.6 percent per incident.

- The Northeast had an average of 2.4 rounds fired per incident in 2013 compared with an average of 2.7 rounds fired per incident in 2014, an increase of 9 percent per incident.

- The South had an average of 2.9 rounds fired per incident in 2013 compared with an average of 3 rounds fired per incident in 2014, an increase of 1.7 percent per incident.

Rounds fired per gunfire incident

- Rounds fired per gunfire incident increased 36 percent

- On average, 3.2 rounds were fired per incident during the first half of 2014, which is up 10 percent from first half 2013 average of 2.9 rounds per incident.

- In 2014, 58,087 rounds were fired, compared with 42,830 rounds fired in 2013.

Regional incidents per square mile

- Most incidents per square mile were in the West, which had 112; the least were in the Northeast, which had 71.4

- The Midwest had 158.9 incidents per square mile

- The South had 120.9 incidents per square mile

- The Caribbean had 100.5 incidents per square mile

Virgin Islands Daily News