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New Orleans Looks at Gunshot Sensors to Curb Interstate Shootings

After several high-profile interstate shootings, city officials are calling for new technology to help catch those pulling the trigger. Unlike shootings in neighborhoods, the interstate often leaves police with few witnesses.

Freeway traffic in New,Orleans, La.
(TNS) — After several highly publicized interstate shootings this year, some local leaders are calling for more creative solutions to stop the bloodshed, including the use of controversial gunshot detection technology that some believe could help police better investigate the crimes.

New Orleans City Council member Oliver Thomas, for one, has been working to build support for the use of ShotSpotter, a system developed by California-based SoundThinking Inc. that uses microphones and sensors to detect gunfire and pinpoint where a gun goes off.

Thomas, who represents eastern New Orleans, said shots are fired every day in New Orleans, and police largely rely on bystanders and witnesses to report it. On the interstate, there aren't many witnesses to lean on.

"It would be great if the police could automatically have a team to hear that, spot it and then be on it," Oliver said.

But research suggests the effectiveness of the technology is underwhelming, according to Ronal Serpas, a professor of criminology at Loyola University and former superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.

"There appears to be some evidence that more calls may be registered, officers are responding to those calls, but it does not look like, generally speaking, that it's increasing the numbers of cases cleared," Serpas said. "And that's subject to further review and investigation by the researchers."

A study published in the Journal of Urban Health in 2021 concluded that ShotSpotter had no significant impact on firearm-related homicides or arrests in 68 counties across the nation from 1999 to 2016.

"We found no difference in county-level homicides, murder arrests, and weapons arrests for large metropolitan counties with and without ShotSpotter technology, controlling for various county- and state-level demographics as well as state firearm laws," the study reads.

The study also notes the high price that many municipalities pay for ShotSpotter.

Chicago spent $33 million on a three-year contract with the company from 2018 to 2021, according to a report issued by the city's inspector general in August 2021.

Of the 50,176 confirmed and dispatched ShotSpotter alerts received between January 2020 and May 2021, evidence of a gun-related crime was found in about 9% of cases, according to the report. In about 2% of those cases, Chicago police made an investigatory stop.

The inspector general's report also said evidence suggests Chicago police dispatched by ShotSpotter "may respond to incidents with little contextual information about what they will find there—raising the specter of poorly informed decision-making by responding members."

The potential for increased and intensified police response in neighborhoods made up largely of people of color is one of the major sources of concern among critics of such technology.

Detectors are often deployed in those communities, according to the ACLU, and false alarms repeatedly send police into these neighborhoods on high alert, expecting to potentially confront gunfire.

Criminal justice reform advocates also say that the unequal distribution of gunshot detectors between neighborhoods could distort crime statistics, making it appear as though there are more shootings in neighborhoods with detectors than those without.


Attacks on the highway make up a relatively small percentage of all the shootings in the city, but they've become increasingly common over the past several years.

At least 30 people were shot on interstates and highways in New Orleans in 2022, according to information from the New Orleans Police Department. Seven of the shootings were fatal.

At least 12 people have been shot on a New Orleans interstate this year, two of whom were killed. A handful of other interstate shootings have damaged vehicles.

In the past, New Orleans police remained tight-lipped about interstate shooting investigations and attributed them to existing feuds, road rage that escalated or crossfire from surrounding areas.

But some mysterious incidents on the interstate have left residents with more questions than answers. In May, the driver of an 18-wheeler was barely spared in a shooting on the I-10, when two rounds flew through the truck's rear window at around 8 a.m.

The shooting couldn't have been feud or road rage-related, according to the driver, and the incredibly accurate shots appeared to come from the woods or a house near the road, not another vehicle.

New Orleans police say they've increased patrols on the interstates and are getting some assistance from the Louisiana State Police, but declined to discuss specific deployment or operational tactics further.

The NOPD is not currently considering implementing gunfire detection systems at this time, a spokesperson said.


Thomas said he's still working to meet with experts in the gunfire detection field, and he's aware of the research regarding its effectiveness. But, he said, the city's current tactics aren't garnering results or arrests either, particularly when it comes to interstate shootings.

"Just because it's not super effective doesn't mean we can't use it as a tool to help us be more effective in areas where we haven't been effective at all," he said.

Thomas pointed to his niece, who was shot twice in the head last year in a double shooting that claimed another woman's life. His niece survived, but Thomas said she'll never be the same. And scores of other New Orleans families have struggled with similar experiences due to crime and gun violence, he said.

"So it sounds like we need every tool that can help save a life, or a limb or some property," Thomas said. "That doesn't mean you do it in a way that is unconstitutional. That doesn't mean you do it in a way that is disrespectful."

Missy Wilkinson contributed to this report.

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