Wilmington’s gunshot-detection tool sees some success
ShotSpotter, which the city began leasing in early summer, is helping police get to shooting scenes faster
As the city sits on the brink of breaking its homicide record and deals with a recent magazine article calling Wilmington "Murder Town," there is some good crime-fighting news.
ShotSpotter, which detects gunshots and pinpoints their locations on a map, led police to arrests in four shootings last month.
That is a major step forward for police, who had used a similar technology, called SENTRI, beginning in 2012. SENTRI, which the city bought and owned, never worked properly.
Police Chief Bobby Cummings says ShotSpotter, which the city began leasing in early summer, is helping police get to shooting scenes faster.
"Where it's situated, it has captured shots being fired, and it has led us to the collection of evidence," Cummings said. "It's doing what it's supposed to do in leading us to shootings."
Detectives have long had a problem at crime scenes and have a low clearance rate on shootings and homicides. Some of that is blamed on uncooperative witnesses.
Also, shootings were called in, sometimes with bad addresses, and officers had to find the crime scene. That could take 10 to 15 minutes or more.
After ShotSpotter confirms a gunshot, it pinpoints the incident on a map that dispatchers use to send police to the scene. The system also distinguishes between multiple and single gunshots.
While ShotSpotter doesn't guarantee witnesses will talk, it immediately sends police to the scene, where they can find shell casings and even witnesses who still have a very recent recollection of the incident.
That, Cummings said, has led to better outcomes, read: arrests.
After ShotSpotter confirms a gunshot in Wilmington, it pinpoints the incident on a map that dispatchers use to send police to the scene. The system also distinguishes between multiple and single gunshots.(Photo: YANN RANAIVO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Reports gathered by The News Journal show that ShotSpotter alerted police in four incidents in November. Cummings said ShotSpotter has so far marked a major turnaround from SENTRI.
The city is leasing ShotSpotter from California-based SST for $415,000 over three years. It had spent $250,000, through a federal grant, on the ineffective SENTRI.
SENTRI – Sensor Enabled Neural Threat Recognition – is also an audible gunshot-detection system, but it also employs cameras that would pivot toward the sound of a gunshot, zoom in and take images of the scene.
But it rarely worked. When City Council approved ShotSpotter in February, SENTRI had detected the sound of only a few gunshots and never recorded a visual image.
One of the ShotSpotter-detected shootings occurred in the area of Lancaster Avenue and North Franklin Street in early November. It resulted in an arrest a day later.
Wilmington began leasing the ShotSpotter system this past summer for $415,000 over three years. The system helped bring arrests in four shooting incidents in November.(Photo: YANN RANAIVO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Cummings and other city officials have not disclosed the location of the ShotSpotter sensors, but said they cover a 3-square-mile area in Wilmington.
Sensors are able to detect shots in all of the city's crime hotspots, but don't cover the entire area of certain individual hotspots, said Councilman Robert Williams, who received an update on the new system during a public safety committee meeting.
Williams is glad the new system has shown positive results, but the councilman, who retired from the Wilmington police force in 2009, said he'd like to see more action from ShotSpotter before deciding if the tool was money well spent.
He still harbors the belief that ShotSpotter will be limited in its ability to significantly boost gun-related arrests and avert shootings until it can work in conjunction with street cameras already operating in the city.
DATABASE: Wilmington shootings and homicides
"It still makes it difficult, and with the lack of cooperation between the public and the officers, it still leaves some margin of error that videos cameras can overtake," Williams said. "It's probably not going to give you your suspect. It could give you your average citizen scared and running, but at least it gives you somebody to talk to. It at least narrows the focus."
Wilmington's next step with ShotSpotter will be hooking the system up to squad car computers so officers can view the gunshot-detection map. Cummings offered no timeline on when that will occur.
"We're still working out the technology that will link those," he said, "but we are moving in that direction."
Like Williams, Councilwoman Loretta Walsh, another public safety committee member, said she'd like to see ShotSpotter in action for a "good year" to see if it's truly much more effective than its predecessor. But the councilwoman said she's in favor of "anything that can prevent or be informative as to where it's occurring in the general area."
"I'm for things like that," Walsh said.
Walsh said she found SENTRI to be "a complete waste of money."DelawareOnline - Yann Ranaivo