West Palm Beach, Fla., Invests in ShotSpotter Tech to Help Curb Gun Violence

The sensor-based system will be installed throughout the city’s more crime-prone neighborhoods.

by Olivia Hitchcock, The Palm Beach Post / August 15, 2018
SST's Incident Review Center in Newark, Calif. SST

(TNS) — WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Next month, some California-based acoustic experts will be helping West Palm Beach police curb the city’s gun violence.

City police Chief Sarah Mooney and Mayor Jeri Muoio announced at a news conference Tuesday the city’s plan to roll out ShotSpotter technology in September throughout its more crime-prone areas.

That sensor-based system is part of the department’s larger technologically based plan to tackle crime.

The city commission recently committed $1.2 million to pay for those gunfire-locator sensors, license-plate readers and analytic systems that’ll tap into police and private-security cameras when a shooting is reported.

The department’s three-year contract with ShotSpotter will require an additional $1 million to maintain the systems, which the city likely will pay for from its annual budget, Muoio said.

The department plans to have the other technologies up and running by January, according to Mooney. Those systems will be combined at a Real Time Crime Center in the police department and monitored 24/7.

The ShotSpotter alerts will be forwarded directly to patrol officers, Mooney said.

Acoustic experts in California will be listening for “impulsive noises” in real time picked up by sensors in select West Palm neighborhoods and determine whether the noise is from a gun, as opposed to a car backfiring or fireworks.

The system pinpoints from where the shot was fired and notifies law enforcement within 45 seconds of the trigger being pulled, the company said. Cities that used the system for two years saw, on average, a 35 percent decrease in gunfire, according to the Newark, Calif.- based company.

The system pinpoints from where the shot was fired and notifies law enforcement within 45 seconds of the trigger being pulled, the company said.

Mooney wouldn’t specify how many sensors would be in the city — though she stressed there’ll be “a lot.” The chief also declined to comment on where exactly the technology will be set up, beyond saying that the department has used years of crime data to determine where they’d make the most sense.

Most of the city’s reported homicide victims since 2009 were killed east of Interstate 95, in the neighborhoods north of downtown and south of 25th Street, according to a Palm Beach Post database. And most were shot to death.

Phil Dailly, a salesman for ShotSpotter, said at the news conference Tuesday that he’s been in talks with the department about the technology for about eight years.

According to Mooney, the city decided to pay for the technology now — as opposed to when crime rates were higher — because the department pitched a comprehensive plan as opposed to asking only for the ShotSpotter technology.

The city will become at least the third in Palm Beach County to use the technology. Riviera Beach and Belle Glade have the system in their cities. The city of Boynton Beach has considered adding it as well.

When Riviera Beach started using the technology in 2010, police saw a spike in reported gunfire, according to a police spokeswoman. The technology was calling in shootings that neighbors weren’t, said city police spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown.

“Some people just don’t want to be involved,” Brown said. She added that others aren’t sure whether what they heard was a bullet or where it came from, two areas in which the technology excels.

The ShotSpotter system alerted Riviera Beach police last month to gunfire on West 28th Street that injured two people. Both people tried to take themselves in private cars to a hospital. The technology allowed police to pinpoint where and when the shooting occurred.

Nationwide, in “vulnerable” communities, residents don’t call police when they hear gunfire, Dailly said. ShotSpotter helps lessen the gap in reporting.

However, Mooney cautioned that technology alone will not quell the city’s gun violence.

“The system does not replace our citizens,” she said, adding that witness and victim cooperation still will be crucial for solving crimes and ensuring convictions.

“We want to be No. 1 in solving crimes and preventing crimes,” Mooney said. “We want to make sure the city’s safe and we want to use any tool and every tool that’s available to us.”

©2018 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.