Thursday, October 25, 2012

CPD Touts Tech Tool to Detect Gunshots

By Tim Hadac
Managing Editor
Southwest Chicago Post

At mid-day today, I stumbled upon a Chicago Police Department press conference at the CPD Eighth District Station. I had just finished up reviewing crime reports and was walking out the door at noon when I caught sight of the event in the community room.

Though uninvited, I walked in to see what was up.

The noon press conference started 22 minutes late, as about 15 or so members of the downtown press (news reporters, videographers and photographers) and various CPD officials waited for Superintendent Garry McCarthy to arrive and then review press conference details in a side room.

The press conference was staged for McCarthy to announce that back in early September, CPD deployed, on a very limited basis, the newest version of wide-area acoustic surveillance system for gunshot detection in several of the highest crime areas in the city.
From the ShotSpotter Facebook page.

Called ShotSpotter, the system essentially features microphones mounted at various outside locations in such a way as to enable police to immediately detect gunshots and their location within (according to McCarthy) a foot. 

(More details in the CPD press release below.)

If it works as advertised, it may wind up being an effective tool for CPD to use to catch criminals it currently does not catch. And if that's the case, the Southwest Chicago Post will be among the first to congratulate and thank Superintendent McCarthy and Mayor Emanuel. Truly.

What does all this have to do with the six neighborhoods around Midway Airport---the neighborhoods served by the Southwest Chicago Post?

Not much---at least not directly.

Officials said that parts of four police districts (including the Eighth District) would be covered by ShotSpotter technology---at least for now. They declined to say what part of the district would be covered---although doubtless, it's the eastern third or so. I'm going to guess anything east of Kedzie and north of 74th Street---but that's just a guess.

And that makes perfect sense, because that's where gun-related violence is at its worst---by far.

In response to an idiotic (and frankly, irresponsible) question from a reporter, police officials declined to give exact locations of the audio sensors---which also makes sense, because gangbangers and others criminals read and watch the news.

CPD officials did not explain why they waited a month and a half to announce the news---but doubtless it was to make sure the kinks, if any, were worked out; and they doubtless wanted to generate some ShotSpotter-related success stories. They did exactly that---and shared a couple, including one of a gun-related incident at 6431 South Talman in which ShotSpotter reportedly gave CPD the edge it needed to quickly arrive on the scene, arrest a couple of gangbangers and confiscate two guns used in a crime.

At the press conference, one reporter expressed a little healthy skepticism by noting that CPD has tried and failed with this type of audio-sensor technology before, from 2003-07. McCarthy responded by claiming that what is now in place is "dramatically" better than what went before, although he did not say how.

McCarthy also said that when he was head of the police department in Newark, New Jersey, he used the same technology successfully---although he did not offer details. He added that Baltimore also uses ShotSpotter---and a top aide produced a list of other jurisdictions that utilize it.

(ShotSpotter has its share of critics, and has been in the news.

McCarthy added that ShotSpotter is especially effective " some of our most distressed neighborhoods, where people hear gunshots and don't even call 911."

He claimed that ShotSpotter is "99 percent accurate" in distinguishing between gunshots and other noises like fireworks, engine backfires, etc.

As they typically do, the downtown press nitpicked about the price tag (which appears to be $200,000 for a year for the leased units); McCarthy noted that the funds are coming not through taxes but asset-forfeiture revenue for now. He also said that future funding (especially for expansion) is uncertain, and various avenues (including the private sector) are being explored.

Appropriately, McCarthy countered their price-tag questions with a few words about the public costs of gun violence, which dwarf the cost of ShotSpotter.

Perhaps anticipating a press question about CPD manpower (which was not asked), he added that he wants to make sure that the cost of ShotSpotter "supports, not supplants" existing CPD resources.

McCarthy also said that the ShotSpotter technology can be integrated with the CPD surveillance camera network---although it is not currently and he offered no specifics on when or how that might occur.

"With this technology in place, police officers can make (gun-related) arrests even before 911 calls come in," McCarthy said.

Let's all hope that's exactly what happens.

* * *

CPD Press Release---At a press conference today, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy announced the installation of ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology that will enhance police response to incidents involving gunfire on the City’s West and South Sides. The tool will deliver critical, actionable information in real time to officers, supporting the most effective violence reduction strategies and operations in violence prone communities.

The new technology will be positioned in two 1.5 square mile areas of the City, allowing for coverage in portions of the Englewood (7th) Chicago Lawn (8th) and Harrison (11th) and Grand Crossing (25th) Districts. The data obtained in these areas will be instrumental in officers’ preliminary response to gunfire incidents as well as the forensic and crime analyses that drive successful investigations and strategic initiatives.

“Accurate information is vital to thorough investigations and effective problem-oriented, intelligence-led policing strategies and tactical operations,” said Superintendent Garry McCarthy. “The integration of gunshot detection technology into our repertoire of crime-fighting tools and initiatives will advance our mission and further diminish the opportunity for violence in our communities,” he added.

ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors to detect and locate with great accuracy any activity possibly involving shots fired in an area. Within seconds of a discovery, officers in the Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC) are notified and enabled to immediately direct field resources to the location of occurrence. At the same time, CPIC officers can access nearby surveillance cameras for greater situational awareness and officer safety.

The new gunshot detection technology already has yielded several successes during its short time in use, including the arrests of two felons and the recovery of a dangerous handgun, a shotgun, and narcotics. The program will continue to be monitored for continued effectiveness and possible expansion.

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