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Montgomery County, Pa., Adopts Gunshot Detection System

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele announced this week that ShotSpotter technology would be implemented to help curb gun violence in the boroughs of Pottstown and Norristown.

A gun being pointed by an unidentifiable person.
(TNS) — A new potential technological solution to gun violence in the boroughs of Pottstown and Norristown was unveiled Wednesday evening by Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.

Called "Shot-Spotter," the technology is primarily sound-based and has become sophisticated enough that using sensors set up around a two-square-mile area in both boroughs allow for the "triangulation," not only of the location, within feet, but even the caliber of the weapon, Steele said.

He said it is already in use in 150 cities and has resulted in a decrease in gun crime in those cities.

The system can get that information to a police officer's mobile phone "within 60 seconds," Steele said. It will also improve police safety by giving the responding officers vital information on the situation into which they are headed.

He cited the example of an October, 2021 shooting on High Street in which "a gun that was practically a machine gun" was used. "We're just lucky they didn't hit any bystanders."

More, the system can "save the lives" of shooting victims, Steele said.

"If someone is shot, we will know exactly where they are," Steele said. This is particularly important, he said, when he became aware of the fact that only about 20 percent of shooting incidents are immediately reported to police.

"So we have had situations where someone has been shot, and the police don't know and that person has died because they did not get immediate medical attention," Steele said.

The sensors will not detect gun shots inside buildings, nor are they calibrated to pick up conversations on the street, he said. "They are really tuned to pick up and triangulate gun shots, this is about public safety," Steele said.

That was a relief to Councilwoman Lisa Vanni, who said she works in technology. "I am concerned about privacy and how far we go with technology," she said. "I'm confident we won't be invading people's privacy," Steel said.

What they will do, officials hope, is create a "safe harbor" or "dome of protection" where the system is in use.

"We're not being quiet about this. We want it to be really unattractive to fire a gun in public in these places," Steele said.

"It's been used in places that have a lot more gun violence than Pottstown, and if we can stop it in this community, it will definitely help the long-term economic development, because people will feel safe coming here," said Steele. "That way we can keep this community on the trajectory we all know it can be on."

The two-year grants will also help to "put more boots on the ground, groups working leads and analysts," Steele said. "This combination of things is really going to make a difference, I am certain."

Steele said he had hoped to have the program up and running by this summer, but has hit a few snags with placing the sensors on utility poles owned by PECO.

"They're working with us, but they have some administrative hurdles they have to go through, but we're really pushing to get this in place as soon as possible. It's a two-year grant and the clock is running," he said.

Councilman Ryan Procsal, who represents Pottstown's central First Ward, said he is "really happy" to hear about the system being implemented "and this technology can help, because when there's a shooting in town, it really shakes our reputation."

Even when the system is put into place, said Steele, "We still need the public. If someone hears shots fired, please call the police."

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