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Vallejo, Calif., Gunshot Detection Pilot Hits Technical Trouble

Officials in the California city are reporting that the gunshot detection sensors they installed in gun crime hot spots are not working properly. The city is working with the vendor, Flock Safety, to resolve the technical issues.

Evidence markers placed near bullet casings with a police car in the background.
(TNS) — When the Vallejo City Council voted to install up to 100 gunshot detection devices in December, the terms of the installation included a free year of beta testing that the Vallejo Police Department could use to make a recommendation to the council on whether or not to extend its contract with Atlanta-based Flock Safety.

Those devices have been installed in high firearm activity areas across the city, but according to VPD Lieutenant Sanjay Ramrakha, technical issues have rendered them useless.

"That's where we are right now — stuck in the mud," Ramrakha said when presenting the update at Thursday's Police Surveillance and Advisory Board ( SAB) meeting.

Flock Safety personnel have been notified — it's unclear how long the company has been aware of the issues and when they'll be resolved — and are sending out experts to resolve the issue. Ramrakha says that to his knowledge, this period of device inactivity doesn't conflict with the beta period.

"I don't know if the technology itself is unreliable," Ramrakha said. "It's being used in other jurisdictions and it works pretty well, so I'm not sure why it's not working here."

VPD Interim Chief Jason Ta urged the council to authorize the use of the gunshot detection technology last year in an effort to reduce officer response time to gunshot calls — which he said can range anywhere from minutes to hours.

But the unanimous council vote rejects a SAB recommendation against implementing the devices across Vallejo. The board made that recommendation in September, citing a lack of metrics for the technology's effectiveness. Thursday's SAB meeting marks the first discussions regarding gunshot detection devices since the city council ruled against the board.

SAB Chair Andrea Sorce, who opposed the technology's deployment, said that the board requested a role in developing the police department's privacy policy on the gunshot detection devices in its initial recommendation.

The devices, when functioning, would alert the VPD about sounds at a frequency similar to a gunshot. Officers signed into the technology can play back the five-second audio — it's unclear how long the audio would be kept on VPD file — and preexisting police policy requires officer confirmation on the scene. An officer would search for indicators such as bullet holes or bullet casings, and the VPD could then escalate the incident to a priority one call, if necessary.

The technology serves to identify gunshot frequencies. Ramrakha said that over time, the technology will learn from the various agencies using it to better determine what particular rounds sound like and their decibels.

Official privacy policy regarding the devices has yet to be adopted, but multiple SAB members suggested outlining ways to measure their success and how VPD utilizes the data. Sorce said these details would be useful to the council when needed to decide on whether or not to extend its contract with Flock Safety.

It now falls on the VPD to present the board with a policy that it can give feedback on.

"We're not going to use any technology without policy," Ramrakha said. "We need rules, and we can't operate in a gray area in this case."

©2023 Times-Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.