Denver Expands Gunshot Detection System After Killings Rise

After an increase in crime and killings in the central city, Denver police officials elected to expand the ShotSpotter technology that detects gunshots and add more officers to police the area.

by Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post / January 31, 2019

(TNS) — More officers will walk Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood and police will expand their gunshot-detection technology into downtown after the city’s core saw an uptick in homicides and other crimes last year.

Ten people were killed in the Central Business District and the Five Points neighborhood in 2018 — nearly as many as the number of homicides in the two neighborhoods during the three previous years combined. Three of the killings last year happened in the Ballpark neighborhood around Coors Field.

Denver’s murder rate last year reached its highest level since 2005 and overall violent crime in the city also rose between 2017 and 2018, police have said.

To combat the violence and calm fear of crime in the area, Denver police announced Wednesday that they will expand the network of audio sensors that already monitor for gunshots in four of the city’s neighborhoods into downtown.

All of the new sensors will be activated over the next few months and will cover a broad swath of downtown, including the areas around Union Station, Civic Center Park and the Ballpark neighborhood, Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said. Once the sensors are in operation, about 12 percent of the entire city will be covered by the technology, he said.

The technology pinpoints the exact location of a suspected gunshot within 5 meters and helps officers arrive at a scene quicker, help any injured people and gather evidence, Pazen said. The system has contributed to 134 arrests since the city started using it in 2015, the chief said.

When a gunshot rings out, audio sensors mounted on buildings pick up the noise, analyze it and send a suspected location to an employee at ShotSpotter, the California company that runs the systems. The employee then confirms the shot and sends a location to patrol officers.

Last year, five of the 10 people killed in Five Points and the Central Business District were shot to death. The others were either stabbed or beaten to death.

Both the city and the Downtown Denver Partnership kicked in tens of thousands of dollars to expand the gunshot-detection system. The first sensors were placed in Denver in 2015 and the police department asked for half a million dollars later that year to expand the service in the city. Prior to the expansion announced Wednesday, the system served the Lowry, Montclair, East Colfax and South Park Hill neighborhoods.

The city and downtown business leaders need to address safety and perceptions of crime in the Ballpark neighborhood, said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership.

All who work, live and visit downtown deserve “a better environment in which to operate,” she said.

The police department also added three new foot patrol officers to the Ballpark neighborhood, Pazen said. The number of officers on the beat will be adjusted as needed and sometimes licensed mental health clinicians will accompany the officers to provide help, he said.

A similar foot patrol program contributed to a 14-percent decline in crime on the 16th Street Mall in past two years, police Cmdr. Aaron Sanchez said.

“It just feels safer down here,” he said.

High-ranking police officials, including the chief, will continue to meet with Ballpark residents and business owners to discuss public safety needs.

Downtown property managers will also re-evaluate lighting, signage and the security of alleyways and make changes that can promote safety, Door said. It takes the involvement of all parties to make progress, she said.

“Public-private relationships are what get things done,” she said.

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