Sacramento, Calif., to Pilot ShotSpotter Technology

A rash of shootings in South Sacramento has prompted county supervisors to invest in gunshot-sensing technology.

by Ellen Garrison, The Sacramento Bee / September 8, 2017

(TNS) -- Four young people were killed within 700 feet of each other on a street in south Sacramento in the last months of 2015 and early 2016, according to Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

“It’s kind of the poster child circumstance for why we need as much help as we can acquire,” Serna said Wednesday of the violence that struck 44th Street.

Supervisors agreed this week to provide some help in the form of ShotSpotter, the gunshot sensor system already used by the Sacramento Police Department.

Sacramento County will launch a two-year pilot project in a 3-square-mile sliver of the unincorporated county surrounded on three sides by the city of Sacramento. Serna calls it the South Oak Park/Fruitridge Pocket area in deference to the two community identities there.

Supervisors approved about $1.1 million for the program to install the ShotSpotter technology and hire four deputies who will respond to alerts. Sheriff’s officials said the system can get up and running 60 to 90 days after the county signs the contract.

The county ShotSpotter area is a hook-shaped protrusion into the city, roughly bounded by 14th Avenue, Stockton Boulevard, 47th Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The jagged political boundaries mean there’s sometimes overlap between activities of the Sheriff’s Department and city police. Sheriff’s officials said they plan to work together with city police after the city approved an expansion of ShotSpotter into the surrounding neighborhood last month.

Sacramento already uses the technology in other areas of the city, which involves installing a network of sensors that listen for gunshots. City police say that between June 15, 2015, and May 31, 2017, information received from the sensors has led to more than 89 arrests and seizure of 90 guns.

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who represents a portion of the area that will be covered, said after meeting with city officials, he thinks the program has great potential.

“At first I have to admit, when I looked at the price tag, I had sticker shock, but the more that I’ve looked into this ... the more I’ve seen the data that it’s taking guns off the street, illegal guns off the street,” Kennedy said.

Community advocate Pastor Les Simmons said ShotSpotter is needed in places where people don’t always report gunfire to the police. Sacramento’s data show citizens reported only about 25 percent of gunshots picked up by the system.

“There could be a victim who is wounded or there could be a loss of life and hours will go by before someone will call law enforcement,” he said.

Getting law enforcement and community members involved in the first minutes after a shooting can be crucial not just for saving a victim or catching a shooter, but for preventing retaliation, he said.

Sometimes the wheels get moving for a retaliatory shooting right away, he said, and getting both law enforcement and trained community responders on the scene can help calm things down and prevent more killings.

ShotSpotter’s sensors are trained to listen for the specific pops, booms and bangs of firearms and can filter out other loud noises such as fireworks or cars backfiring. Once a ShotSpotter analyst signs off on a sound as a gunshot, officers receive an audio clip of the gunfire, the number of rounds shot and a map with the location – accurate to 25 feet.

Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the surveillance implications of the microphones. In at least one case, the last word of a gunshot victim – his killer’s nickname – was captured by ShotSpotter and used to convict the shooter.

ShotSpotter officials have said previously the case was an outlier because the name was screamed immediately after the gunshot. The company says ShotSpotter only records the few seconds before and after gunfire.

Simmons said he hasn’t heard much concern about privacy in the community, but some are worried about the way data from ShotSpotter could be used to characterize the community.

©2017 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.