Major Cities Using Hidden Sensors to Thwart Gun Violence

Large cities are equipping themselves with ShotSpotter, a gunfire-detecting sensor hidden in poles and rooftops.
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Large cities are equipping themselves with ShotSpotter, a gunfire-detecting sensor hidden in poles and rooftops.
shotspotter sensor

Photo Credit: Vice

In a new attempt to thwart gun violence, major cities have enlisted the help of ShotSpotter, a set of gunfire-detecting sensors that are hidden throughout the city on roofs and light poles. 

The idea is to reduce the time it takes for law enforcement to respond to incidents involving firearms. ShotSpotter picks up on the sounds of shots being fired, which sends an alert to dispatch with a GPS location. Dispatch then sends a unit to the scene, with the entire process taking about 10 seconds. 

"Unlike counter-sniper sensors, which can only measure a limited range of sounds—the supersonic signature of a sniper’s round with a known ballistic coefficient—SST’s wide area protection system measures the full range of impulsive sounds (sounds which are explosive in nature) found in urban weaponry, from sub and supersonic impulses to explosions," the ShotSpotter website reads.

The location sensors are said to be pretty accurate, with sensors able to detect the exact longitude/latitude and street address of where the shots were fired, as well as the exact time and the shooter's position. If the shooter is moving, it can tell how fast and in what direction. 

Cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and Boston have begun using ShotSpotter. New York City has just signed-on for a $1.5 million, two-year trial with the company. 

In Birmingham, England, SpotShotter wasn't exactly a big hit. The city stopped using the sensors after citing technical difficulties. Law enforcement reportedly received 1,618 alerts, but only two were confirmed as gunfire incidents. SpotShotter also missed four confirmed shootings altogether, so the city decided to use their resources for community policing, anti-gun campaigns and for their counter-gang task force. Privacy also became a concern among Birmingham citizens, who worried that their conversations were also being picked up by the sensors. 

On the other hand, Chicago has been using SpotShotter since 2012. 

Learn more about SpotShotter in the video below.