One Year After Approval, Pittsburgh Gunshot Detection System Remains Inactive

Councilman Ricky Burgess sponsored legislation that would authorize the city to buy and integrate the equipment, but officials aren't sure how long it will be until it is utilized.

by Margaret Harding, McClatchy News Service / April 15, 2014

Nearly a year since Pittsburgh City Council agreed to buy a gunshot detection system to combat crime in violent neighborhoods, it has yet to be activated, and public safety officials say they aren't sure how soon that could change.

Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze sponsored legislation enacted April 30 that authorized the city to spend up to $1 million to buy and integrate video surveillance cameras with gunshot detection equipment. He blamed the delay on the change in mayoral administrations.

“The previous administration stopped its implementation and left it up to the new administration,” Burgess said. “There was a new administration that got up to speed on the project, and now it's moving forward.”

Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said the project is on hold while the department's director, Mike Huss, awaits a response from the city's Department of Innovation and Performance. She wouldn't elaborate, and Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, declined to comment.

The department, headed by Debra Lam, manages city government's technology, sustainability, performance and innovation functions.

Since April 2013, police recorded 604 reports of shots fired in the Zone 5 police district, which includes crime-prone neighborhoods Homewood, Lincoln-Lemington and Larimer. Zone 2, based in the Hill District, had the most reports of shots fired at 863.

In the same time period, there were 2,978 reports of shots fired in Pittsburgh.

“That's people who call in; that doesn't mean the number of shootings,” Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor said. “You can have people that are scared or apathetic. Practically speaking, if you're in your home, it's very hard to tell precisely where the shot or shots are coming from.”

O'Connor said there were 25 shootings in July and August of 2013, six of them fatal, months after council approved the system. He said it was one of the most violent periods in his five years working at Zone 5. In 2013, two police officers in that zone were shot, and three more were shot at, he said.

“We at Zone 5 welcome any hardware that would help us in our battle to confront violent crime,” O'Connor said. “We would look at those types of things as an asset, as a force multiplier. We cannot have police stationed in various locations around the clock.”

SST Inc., which makes the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system Pittsburgh could use, did not respond to requests for comment. According to the company's website, sensors and software triangulate and pinpoint the location of a shot fired. Police departments in more than 70 cities use the system, including Rochester, N.Y., Youngstown, Ohio, and Minneapolis.

Its capabilities could be paired with cameras that could record the shooting or perhaps a getaway car, said Avrio RMS Group CEO Mark Jules. He said his company was set to provide 48 cameras for the project.

“As far as we know, we've provided the answers to questions asked, and we haven't heard any additional questions,” Jules said. “We're just waiting.”

©2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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