Since late September, the Detroit Police Department has been field-testing crime-fighting technology designed to detect gunfire in targeted areas of the city.
By using microphones placed in specific, strategic areas of the city, ShotSpotter technology is able to detect the sound of gunfire. The source of the gunfire can be accurately triangulated to within approximately 30 yards, and then law enforcement can then be immediately and automatically alerted.
Typically, up to 20 listening devices are installed within each square mile of the target area. The devices are able to send and receive information to each other to help pinpoint the location of any detected gunshots.
The ShotSpotter Company is based in Newark, California, and currently the technology is used in 80 American cities.
On Thursday, Police Captain Rodney Cox of the 9th Precinct spoke at the Detroit Police Commission meeting, saying that the equipment could “increase our response time any time there are weapons used or weapons fired in a certain area.”
In practice, the system isn’t specifically designed or particularly effective as a means to actually make arrests, but it is proving to be an extremely valuable tool that can help officers respond rapidly, which in turn can positively impact the relationship between the public and the police.
When a patrol is alerted to a report of gunfire, responding officers can immediately react and begin interviewing neighbors and possible witnesses. This swift and visible interaction with residents helps build the public’s confidence in the Police Department.
Cox stated, “(Officers) exit the scout car, go house-to-house, knock on the doors, find out if anyone heard anything, anyone saw anything. I can tell you that is part of the process.” Cox went on to say, “We’ve had occasions where spent casings were located and collected and placed in evidence, and we’ve had… two occasions that I know of specifically where arrests were made.”
According to reports from the Associated Press, the system was able to detect two dozen possible shootings within the first week of operation. According to Fox News, Police Chief James Craig told the Detroit News that the system is still being tested and will need to be “tweaked”.
So far, the use of the ShotSpotter system has not cost Detroit’s taxpayers any money. It was originally instituted by Police Chief James Craig via the emergency management program, and as such, it was able to be implemented without needing approval from the Police Commission or the City Council.
That didn’t sit particularly well with Police Commission Chairman Willie Bell, who has indicated that he would have preferred to receive notification that SpotShotter was being implemented from the start, rather than learning about it months later.