By Sue Moynagh
On Monday, April 14, ShotSpotter was up and running, hooked up with the Real Time Police Center and also with California reviewing offices that screen the information and help filter out noises that are not gun- related. On the following Wednesday, the Worcester Police Department held a Crime Watch Summit to give information to city officials and residents about ShotSpotter and its prospects for fighting gun violence in Worcester. The technology was explained and demonstrations were given via a power point presentation. ShotSpotter is doing its job!
First up to speak was Mayor Joseph Petty, a member of the nationwide group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who is adamant about cleaning out gun violence in our city. He noted that ShotSpotter is already paying dividends. Next to speak was City Manager Ed Augustus. He stressed the importance of the partnership between neighborhood crime watches and the police. He also emphasized the importance of incorporating cutting-edge technology in the fight against crime. Worcester Police are constantly innovating their methods and technological tools, and ShotSpotter is a vital tool in the police arsenal to tighten their response to gun fire.
Deputy Chief Mark Roche and Captain Paul Saucier made the main presentation. What is ShotSpotter and why do we need it? Basically, ShotSpotter is a web- based system of sensors that detect loud noises, filter them, and allow police to respond quickly to gun fire. The sensors triangulate the position, allowing police to zero in on the exact location, but also give information about number of shots, time of activity, movement and direction if this is a driveby shooting, and even may identify type of weapon used. .As Deputy Chief Roche said of officers going into harm’s way- they have “better info going in.” They know if this is a single shot, or multiple shots, with the same or different firearms. More shots mean more personnel can be sent to the scene. Most important, they get there quickly, in minutes usually, so they have a better chance of catching the suspects, aiding victims, and collecting vital evidence.
I admit I have never called in when I hear gun shots. Usually it is late at night, and I have no clear idea of where the shots are coming from, especially if they are not close. Why don’t I call? I hesitate to call because at crime watch meetings, I have been taught to be very clear, very precise with descriptions when I call in a complaint. The more information given, the better the response. I feel as if I would be too vague if I say, “I heard three gunshots, but I don’t know where they are coming from.” How could police respond to that? According to Captain Saucier, people can detect gunfire half a mile away. Now with ShotSpotter, they can pinpoint the location within feet. They explained that the calls are important as records of gun shots, so they asked us to “Please call!”
I am not the only one who does not call. Only about 20- 25% of gun shots are called in. This includes the two incidents on Barclay Street in the Union Hill neighborhood. On April 13, at 1:06 a.m. gun shots were detected by ShotSpotter, but nothing was called in. Shell casings were found at the location. On Friday, April 24, gun shots were again detected by ShotSpotter at 2:40 a.m. This time the shots were fired into a window at 43 Barclay Street. At 10:00 a.m., police were contacted when the owner of the house found a suspicious device on his SUV. The State Police Bomb Squad assisted the Worcester Police Department; including a K-9 bomb sniffing dog in dealing with the threat. The bomb was safely detonated, and no one was injured. Again, these shots were not called in to police. Unreported shots have been detected in other neighborhoods as well, even before the sensors were connected to the California review center. This includes an incident on April 12, where shots were confirmed at Hollis and Wyman Streets at 2:15 a.m.
Critics complain about the high cost of ShotSpotter and point out that no one has been caught yet. The cost of installation and use of this technology in the six square mile section of Worcester, along with cameras that will provide visual evidence will be approximately $1million for the three year trial period. As the police pointed out at the Crime Watch Summit, ShotSpotter is guaranteed to be 80% accurate in the contract, but is actually closer to 90% accurate in detecting gun fire. If people don’t call in when they hear gunshots, there is no record of gun activity. ShotSpotter confirms this is a real event.
When decisions are made about police presence in a neighborhood, inaccurate data can mean fewer officers. Now the data coming from ShotSpotter support the need for police presence in higher risk areas. As Deputy Chief Roche explained, “The quality of the investigation is increased. Resources are deployed based on data…data-led policing.”
Police on the scene collect evidence from a 25 meter area around the pinpointed location. Even though the shooter may be gone, gun casings are easier to find and collect. They may provide evidence in future cases. When a suspect is apprehended, evidence will allow police to tie this person to previous shootings.
Most important of all, lives may be saved. Innocent people get caught up in gang shootings, and are seriously injured or even killed. I’m sure we’ve all read tragic stories about children being caught in gunfire between gangs. Stray bullets can hit homes. Calls that do come in to dispatch can take up to 10 minutes for response. Now with ShotSpotter, a call to officers can go out in 30 seconds to a minute, which can mean the difference between life and death. How do you put a price on a life?
This is just the first Phase of the ShotSpotter deployment. In Phase II, cameras will be installed. These will be the “eyes” that detect cars or suspects leaving the scene. Much of the funding will be coming from CSX mitigation funds, but the City of Worcester will also pay a portion. A member of the CSX Subcommittee said that the data coming from ShotSpotter will be examined in the near future, and more funding may be made available from that source.
Both Deputy Chief Mark Roche and Captain Paul Saucier did a commendable job in keeping city officials and residents informed about the technology and how it will benefit high risk areas of the City. I have seen evidence in my neighborhood that ShotSpotter works and I support its use wholeheartedly. I also look forward to the day when we no longer need this type of protection in my community. Residents have to do their part as well. Now when I hear shots, I will call, because I know my report of gunshots is being validated by ShotSpotter. I hope others will become more involved, because we are ultimately responsible for the safety and quality of our neighborhoods.