Gunshot detection technology: Could software come to the Miami Valley?

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 @ 6:30 PM

Proven technology can pinpoint gunfire in your neighborhood and lead police to the exact location of its source. It’s leading to arrests, and some say, saving lives.

Lodia Furnas and many of her East Dayton neighbors often hear the one noise that makes them most fearful about their safety: gunshots. She said it happens all too often. 

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“It is a serious problem,” Furnas said. “About every other night you hear shots fired.” 

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Her neighborhood is not the only place where shots ring out on a regular basis. Records obtained by News Center 7’s I-Team show that more than 2,200 people called 9-1-1 in 2018 to report hearing gunshots. 

Dayton police Lt. Col. Eric Henderson said the problem likely is worse than what some people think because 80 percent of the gunshots are never reported to police. 

Even if people do call in a report, Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said it often does not give law enforcement much to go on. 

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“We may get 20 9-1-1 calls saying, ‘Yeah, we just heard a succession of shots being fired.’ ‘OK do you see anybody?’ ‘No, I didn’t want to look out the window,’” said Streck. 

He added that deputies still respond to the area, but often do not find anything. 

In an effort to curb the problem, several communities have turned to technology to help law enforcement track down who is responsible for the gunfire. 

The city of Columbus recently installed a computer system called ShotSpotter that relies on a network of high-quality microphones that record the sounds those sensors pick up. 

Within seconds, a team of analysts in California listen to the recording to determine whether it is gunfire or some other noise. If it is a gunshot, police crews are dispatched to the area. 

Deputy Chief Richard Bash of the Columbus Police Department showed the I-Team how the system works and why they think it has been a worthwhile tool for his city. Pointing to his computer screen filled with marks on a city map, Bash said, “All of these little bubbles here will tell us how many shots were fired.” 

 

The system not only pinpoints where the shots came from, but also indicates if the shooter was moving and in what direction. It even provides an actual audio recording of the shots being fired that can be played back at police headquarters or in the police cruisers in the field. 

In one case the system alerted police to shots fired in an alley when no one called police to report it. When officers responded they found no shooter or victims, but did find a nearby home with a security camera. The camera caught the shooter on video and when it was shared with police throughout the city and the local media, the shooter was identified and arrested. 

The I-Team asked both the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office and the Dayton Police Department if ShotSpotter works so well why it has not been tried here? 

Both said they have given it a look several times, but at least so far have decided not to go forward with it because it is too expensive. 

Columbus spent over $700,000 on their system that so far covers three neighborhoods.

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Activists like Lisa Boggs of Columbus said she sees the system as an investment that makes her and her neighbors feel much safer. 

“If one life is saved it will be worth it,” Boggs said. 

Streck said he will continue to monitor how well the system works in Columbus. Dayton Police, meanwhile are doing the same. 

Streck said at one point he proposed the two agencies share the cost of ShotSpotter but stopped short of putting it into place due to financial constraints. 

While the city and county continue to give the technology a long look, Furnas remains hopeful it will be brought to the neighborhoods here. 

“The city of Dayton needs it because they need all of the eyes and ears that they can get and anything else,” Furnas said.