OPINION: ShotSpotter - An advanced shot at crime prevention

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Jackson Mote is a junior French
major from Indianapolis. 
CHRISTA SCHRODEL / THE DEPAUW

Yesterday, the New York Police Department announced that they have started using a gunshot detection system in seven precincts in the Bronx and 10 in Brooklyn. A total area of 15 square miles is monitored by ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system made of microphones installed throughout the area to detect and locate gunshots. The NYPD is then able to receive estimated gunshot location information and respond to the shots fired very quickly.

In the announcement of the initiative, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner William J. Bratton highlighted the importance of the initiative along with their opinion that ShotSpotter will help the relationship between the police and the communities that they protect. Bratton stated that “On average, 75 percent of shot fired called in by Shot Spotter are never called into 911”. The program will cost New York $1.5 million dollars annually for a two year contract in the current area of operation.

ShotSpotter is used across the nation in cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, Boston, Oakland and Washington. The system is even used about three and a half hours north of Greencastle in South Bend, Indiana across an area of three square miles. The South Bend Police Department says that the area covered by ShotSpotter accounts for 40 percent of the city’s gun crime and 52 percent of its homicides. The cost of the technology for a two year contract of ShotSpotter in South Bend was $250,000 dollars.

The implementation of this system in New York seems wise in the wake of police scandals in other cities involving the use of deadly force. However, the collection of data is a troubling aspect of this system. Even though it is meant to pick up gunshots, it could also inadvertently record other sounds in the area that are not meant to be recorded. The improvement in overall safety will be the most advantageous benefit to the communities plagued by urban gunfire.

With the pilot programs across the nation going well, I would not be surprised to see ShotSpotter installed in several more large cities in the United States as well as installation generated from local funding in communities worried about gun crime. Assuming that the system is used in accordance with the Fourth Amendment rights regarding privacy laws, the use of ShotSpotter as an ultra-quick gunshot identification system is undoubtedly appealing to law enforcement agencies in the US.

The NYPD is another organization attempting to push the limit of how technology can be used to respond to crime quickly and to deploy patrols in the most effective manner for crime prevention. If ShotSpotter continues to make communities safer and lower gun crime, the system should be more widely adopted to be used in communities that are in need of an extra set of ears on the streets.