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Fresno Unified School District, Calif., Invests in Gunshot-Spotting Tech

The system’s coverage area will expand from 3 square miles to 6 with the school district’s partnership, and will encompass 24 schools and their surrounding neighborhoods.

(TNS) -- Fresno Unified School District is investing $500,000 in gunshot-tracking technology, giving the Fresno Police Department a boost in its fight against gang-related crime. But the Fresno Teachers Association says that the money could have been used in other ways to improve student safety.

Fresno police introduced the ShotSpotter system last year in hopes of better pinpointing gunfire across the city. Between 2014 and 2015, reports of shootings in Fresno increased by 20 percent.

ShotSpotter uses sensors to notify officers within seconds of gunfire, bypassing a 911 call. The system detects legitimate gunshots and passes the information directly to the dispatch center and police cars, alerting officers exactly where and when a shot was fired.

Police received a $150,000 state grant in 2015 to install the system in parts of Fresno, and the Fresno Unified school board unanimously voted last week to contribute $500,000 over the next three years, allowing schools to act as detection centers.

The system’s coverage area will expand from 3 square miles to 6 with the school district’s partnership, and will encompass 24 schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, according to police Chief Jerry Dyer. The goal is to expand to 12 square miles over the next year, Dyer said.

Fresno police Capt. Mike Reid, who oversees the system, said it has exceeded expectations since it was implemented about eight months ago.

“What we’re seeing is that we’re able to respond in time to actually find people in the process of doing something criminal and take them into custody,” he said. “Without it, a typical call comes in from 911 and says where they think the shots are – but they’re not exactly sure where. We send an officer to check out the neighborhood, but sometimes they can’t really locate the specific location.

“This gives officers an immediate, pinned location, and it doesn’t have to go through a concerned citizen. Filters also can determine a real gunshot from a firework or something else.”

Fresno Unified will not have any oversight of the system, but is simply providing funding and allowing the technology to be installed on select campuses. Police do not identify the location of the sensors, but Reid said they are in historically crime-ridden areas.

School board President Luis Chavez said installing ShotSpotter is the latest in a string of increased safety measures across the district. Fresno Unified recently doubled its school resource officer staff and upgraded its school security cameras.

“This really links the whole campus safety and student safety model we’ve been working on. It’s not only benefiting the kids, but the neighborhoods that they live in,” Chavez said.

But the district’s purchase has received some criticism.

Jon Bath, a teacher at Sunnyside High School who is chairman of the Fresno Teachers Association political action committee, said he appreciates school safety investments. But he believes the district’s funds should be used for more preventive measures instead of something focused on crime after the fact.

The Fresno Teachers Association recently called for more campus safety assistants in schools to help curb violence, and made the demand again at last week’s school board meeting.

“My concern is that these are education dollars. I don’t think that we would ask the Fresno PD to give us money to educate children,” Bath said. “But we know Fresno Unified is a cash cow with a ton of money.”

Fresno Teachers Association President Tish Rice said she supports Fresno police and the work that they do, but $500,000 is a significant sum.

“I’m concerned how money is allocated in the district, especially when there are so many needs facing our students,” she said.

Trustee Brooke Ashjian said he supports using district funds for ShotSpotter, because quicker police response times have the potential to save lives.

“It shaves minutes off of getting officers to the site. If it’s my kid, or a child in general, even seconds matter,” he said.

©2016 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.