Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ShotSpotter is working, but community engagement is still key

Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and I announced the success achieved with the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system. ShotSpotter went live in Kansas City on Oct. 1, 2012. The system covers 3.5 square miles in the city’s urban core and alerts police to gunfire. You can learn more about how it works here.

Police have been dispatched to 977 shots fired alerts through the system in the last eight months. These have led officers to recover 342 shell casings, 96 live rounds and 13 firearms. They’ve made six felony arrests through ShotSpotter, three of which resulted in federal charges for felons in possession of firearms. And since ShotSpotter’s implementation, aggravated assaults with firearms have decreased by 24.6 percent in the covered areas.

One example of a ShotSpotter success story happened in December 2012. Officers responded to the area where ShotSpotter indicated a gun had been fired. They found a man suffering from an apparent gunshot wound. Later investigation revealed the victim had been inside a stolen vehicle with another man who had shot him and fled. Police promptly located the vehicle and suspect. They found the firearm used in the shooting inside the car, as well as another stolen gun. The suspect gave a full confession and was charged with aggravated assault and armed criminal action. He was jailed in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

The detectives who worked that case believe that without ShotSpotter, police never would have been contacted. Because of the vehicle theft, they don’t think the victim would have reported being shot. But because of ShotSpotter, a man who tried to kill someone is off the street and being held accountable for his actions.

Another success story comes from an accumulation of gunfire data that ShotSpotter picked up on and KCPD intelligence analysts gathered. The system detected gunshots coming from the same address on multiple occasions. Police were able to use that data to obtain a search warrant for the house. Inside they found two illegally possessed firearms and the drug PCP. They were able to take suspects into custody.

But the real success of the ShotSpotter system isn’t in the statistics. It’s in the relationships it is helping to build. Sadly, hearing frequent gunfire has become a way of life in some neighborhoods. People didn’t report it because they were scared or felt police wouldn’t do anything about it. Now they see that we are doing something about it, and we are here to make their block safe again. When we show up at these shots fired calls now, people come out of their homes to ask us what is going on. They are learning that we will be there and they can talk to us. If police had been better engaged with the community over the years, we wouldn’t need ShotSpotter. We are working to repair that disconnect and engage the public once again.

We are not surprised by the effectiveness of ShotSpotter. The system was placed in the right areas of the city – those where violence had become too common of an occurrence. (We will not reveal where the system is located so we can stay several steps ahead of those who engage in criminal activity.) Given additional funding, we would love to expand the system in other areas.

But technology and police won’t solve everything. It’s up to community members to say they refuse to tolerate violence in their neighborhood.

And as we approach Independence Day, I wanted to let you know the ShotSpotter system can differentiate between fireworks and gunfire. Both are illegal in Kansas City. Police will be responding to these calls on the Fourth of July and every other day. And with ShotSpotter, the gunshot calls that might otherwise have gotten lost in fireworks noise will be clear, and police will respond to them promptly.

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