can do it with real gunfire, it will be an invaluable tool." The system triangulates based on how long it takes the sound to reach several sensors located nearby.
At press time, the Police Department was preparing to begin phase two of the testing. "Phase two will test the system's ability to locate real gunshots within a certain radius," said Wilkins. "The computer will have to come up with the location in 30 seconds and then we will send officers out -- it's more of a realtime test."
As the system goes through the final phases of testing, other U.S. cities are watching closely to see if such a system could be the answer to their problems. But hosting the pilot does not guarantee residents of Redwood City future benefits.
"We're proving the technology is workable," said Wilkins. "But it's up to Trilon to find someone to produce and mass-market the product. Then it would be a question to the city if they wanted to buy it and install it permanently or not," said Wilkins.
HUMAN OR MACHINE?
There is little doubt that if the Gunshot Location System is proved valuable and is mass-marketed, many other jurisdictions would be interested in purchasing it. Showen has already had multiple inquiries from around the state and beyond. But a more important question may be one of cost -- is it more valuable to purchase this technology or to hire a few more police officers and step up patrols?
For its role as a test site, Redwood City only had to pay $25,000. But other jurisdictions may face costs of several hundred thousand dollars to wire a few square miles. Some may find it a challenge to justify spending that amount vs. the $80,000 or so it currently costs to hire a full-time, fully benefited officer. But Wilkins believes comparing the two is comparing apples and oranges.
"I'm not sure if it's a question of hiring more officers," he said. "What the system would do for us in the long run at that price would be better than hiring an officer for less money and then having the officer out there driving around in circles."
Wilkins also explained that the random gunfire in Redwood City is geographically specific. "Out of 10 areas we looked at, we found three that were really high in [random gunfire] incidence. It would not be an exorbitant fee to cover those three areas, especially considering the deterrent effect that it's had," Wilkins said, referring to last New Year's Eve when -- although the system was not functioning -- community awareness of its existence alone reduced random gunfire.
Dr. Showen believes, once the system is widely available, jurisdictions may figure out alternate ways to pay for it if they want it. "I could imagine that this could eventually be paid for the same way we pay for 911," he said. "After all, this is sort of that kind of thing -- an automated response to an emergency."
Miller -- who is also a member of an ad hoc citizen committee that will make a recommendation to the city council on whether or not the system should become a permanent part of the Redwood City Police Department -- believes both more manpower and the locator system are needed for maximum benefits. "If you get the information, but no one goes out for 20 minutes, it's useless," she said.
With little left it its way, it seems likely the Gunshot Location System will be a viable tool for communities once it's perfected. And while placing microphones in residential areas could potentially raise skeptical eyebrows among citizens concerned about privacy, according to Wilkins that issue hasn't even been raised in Redwood City.
"Microphones used as part of this system are not directional,