Ohio City to Expand ShotSpotter Gunshot Detection Tech

The Columbus Public Safety Department, whose staff makes up roughly 75 percent of the city's full-time payroll, is seeking to increase its budget by 3.42 percent next year to $647.4 million, with some of that going to tech.

by Bill Bush, The Columbus Dispatch / December 12, 2019

(TNS) — The almost 4,100-employee Columbus, Ohio, Public Safety Department, whose police officers and firefighters and civilian support staff make up 75% of the city's full-time payroll, is seeking to increase its budget by 3.42% next year to $647.4 million.

The department would allocate $360 million to police and $271.4 million to fire, and $16 million to administrative and support services, according to a proposed 2020 budget presented to the City Council at a hearing Wednesday. The department also handles licensing requirements for various businesses and weights and measures inspections.

Interim Police Chief Tom Quinlan said he is concerned that while the number of homicides in the city has trended down this year (98 as of early Wednesday night compared to 114 as of Dec. 11 in 2018), the percentage of them that are being solved is also down. About 40% of the murders are on track to be solved this year, down from a historical rate of about 50%, Quinlan said.

Police are developing plans to better handle case management of homicides, such as hiring more civilian police intelligence specialists, bolstering the cold-case unit, developing better neighborhood relationships and changing tactics in how detectives get information from witnesses and others.

"Community outreach and engagement continue to be a focus," Quinlan said, saying neighborhood meetings, social media, and "diversity and inclusion officers" will continue to be avenues to connect with the public.

The police division intends to expand its use of "ShotSpotter" gunshot-detection technology next year, budgeting a total of $625,000 that will be used to increase the neighborhoods covered from three to four, with the addition of a new East Side area near Whitehall, Quinlan said.

Since ShotSpotter was deployed earlier this year, police have found four shooting victims in cases where no one had called 911. All the victims lived, Quinlan said. Even when people call to report gunshots, the locations they give to dispatchers often are less accurate than the technology, he said.

At a news conference Nov. 26 at the Barack Community Center in south Columbus, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther touted that the city's police recruit class for 2019 would be increased by 10 officers to a total 90, and the city would add another 90 in 2020. But the police budget shows that, due to attrition, the number of uniformed officers will only increase by a total of 12 next year, to 1,963 officers.

"I'm always looking to try to help them have more people," said City Council member Mitch Brown, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.

"Our city is growing, and we want to make sure that the police and fire divisions are staying commensurate with the growth that's occurring in our community," he said.

The Columbus Fire Division is budgeted to grow by 10 uniformed firefighters in 2020 to 1,606, according to the budget. The division' caseload continues to expand, with the city adding 40 to 60 new buildings each month, Fire Chief Kevin O'Connor said.

City firefighters and medics respond to 500 calls on an average day, including eight to 12 overdoses a day. The division's new Station 35 on North Waggoner Road on the Far East Side will open next month.

©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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