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Bridgeport, Conn., Police Chief Wants More ShotSpotter Tech

The acting police chief of the Bridgeport Police Department said she attributes a recent reduction in shootings to ShotSpotter. She argues that the city needs more of the sensor technology.

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(TNS) — For the past three years there have been, on average, three incidents of gunfire daily in Connecticut's largest city.

But fatal and non-fatal shooting incidents were actually down last year from 2020, according to police data.

Acting Chief Rebeca Garcia shared those figures Tuesday with City Council members as she touted the public safety benefits of the ShotSpotter sensor technology and advocated for expanding its currently limited, 5.5-square-mile coverage area to more of Bridgeport's 16 square miles.

She noted that, according to department statistics, just 15 to 20 percent of the population phones in instances of gunshots to police. But since being launched here in early 2019, ShotSpotter has issued 3,474 alerts with a 92 percent rate of accuracy and, Garcia insisted, been an important tool in responding to and preventing violence and in solving crimes and homicides.

"I know I have been asked several times, 'Why are you so pro ShotSpotter?'" Garcia told members of the council's Public Safety Committee, which hosted Tuesday's teleconference. "ShotSpotter has been such an incredible tool for the city."

And the chief believes some of Bridgeport's share of the American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief federal lawmakers passed this year could pay for broadening ShotSpotter's reach and installing more sensors. New Haven recently decided to invest $1.2 million of ARP funding to increase ShotSpotter coverage there.

"That is something we are actually focusing on now," Garcia said, though she could not immediately provide the committee with a cost estimate.

Mayor Joe Ganim's administration in recent months has invested millions of ARP dollars into small businesses and nonprofits, along with youth and infrastructure programs. But ShotSpotter expansion has not previously been mentioned publicly.

Some council members were surprised to learn that the sensors' current range was limited to areas totaling less than a third of the city.

"I thought ShotSpotter was in the whole city," said Councilwoman Maria Pereira.

"It's disheartening," said Councilman Jorge Cruz. "So our officers, basically, are in a blind spot in some areas."

Patrol officers have immediate access to ShotSpotter alerts and, according to Garcia, can "self-dispatch" to scenes of shots fired for a more rapid response, rather than waiting for the public to phone 911.

But Maria Valle, the public safety group's co-chairman, questioned whether the technology is truly making a difference. The councilwoman from the East Side admitted feeling "hopeless" about what she perceives as unrelenting violence.

"I'd like to be able to say, 'ShotSpotter, you're doing a great job.' But I can't even say that right now because it [shootings] continues," Valle said.

"I'm sorry that you feel hopeless," Garcia said. "I'm saddened to hear that you don't feel this is effective. But I'm here to tell you, ma'am, I know for a fact this is effective."

Garcia acknowledged that the 3,474 alerts over the last three years is a large number, but she also noted that gun violence was down in 2021 versus 2020. According to the department, there were 110 shooting incidents last year versus 127 in 2020, 107 shooting victims in 2021 versus 138 the year prior, and 17 fatal shootings last year compared with 21 in 2020.

Garcia said ShotSpotter, combined with the city's outdoor camera system that she also would like to expand, allows for a rapid police response.

"It's what I call the 'eyes in the sky,'" Garcia said. "If ShotSpotter comes on, we don't wait for a phone call."

The technology has helped "interrupt further acts of violence" because officers arrived quickly; been important in recovering shell casings and weapons leading to convictions; and enabled the department to focus limited manpower on certain problem neighborhoods, Garcia told the committee members.

Other council members endorsed her effort to expand the usage.

Michelle Lyons, who co-chairs the committee with Valle, and Jeanette Herron both recalled some initial skepticism within municipal government when ShotSpotter was first proposed a few years ago.

"It does work. I've seen it work," Herron said.

Lyons noted some of her North End neighborhoods were not currently covered, but agreed the system has come a long way.

"But I think it needs to still progress even further just to make everybody feel more safe and comfortable," she said.

Ernest Newton, who helps run the budget committee and has been involved in recent months in how the city is distributing its American Rescue Plan dollars, said Bridgeport should "definitely" look at adding more ShotSpotters.

"We really need to expand it," he said.

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