Every year, over 100,000 people are victims of gun violence in the United States with over 30,000 dying. The city of Syracuse, New York is no stranger to this unsettling trend with 385 calls for shots fired reported in 2016 alone. 121 of those calls resulted in injuries, 19 out of the city’s 30 homicides were gun-related, and police took 343 illegal handguns off the streets. The numbers don’t seem to compare to the issues seen in major urban communities like Chicago or Detroit, but considering how Syracuse’s population is roughly 132,000 people, the city’s gun violence stats are quite alarming.
Syracuse’s city council is looking to combat their gun crime issue, and recently approved paying for technology that will enable police to hear when gunshots are fired in real time. The program known as ShotSpotter is used in more than 90 cities across the world, and will use a network of sensors to detect and pinpoint the exact location of a gun discharge. Costs for the first year are expected to be around $200,000, however the Syracuse City Council approved program spending up to $300,000.
The program contains a subscription service with ShotSpotter that’s based in Silicon Valley. The company will be responsible for installing and maintaining the 45-60 acoustic sensors that will be installed within a three-square mile radius of the city. Syracuse police will determine where the sensors will be installed based on existing data from previous gun-related crimes, which are expected to be first installed on government buildings.
“Police and fire substations, schools, then we would start looking at some apartment buildings maybe some businesses in the area,” says ShotSpotter Regional Director Jack Pontious. “Those are the kinds of locations we would typically go for first. If we have to use light poles, we would use those on occasion. We really stay off of private residences.”
When the sensors detect a gunshot, they’ll send an alert to 911, squad card, and investigators, who will receive the exact coordinates and an audio file of the firearm discharges. Expected to be up and running by the spring, the audio sensors will become synced with the city’s network of active police cameras and other surveillance devices.
“Which is extremely important because then they know how severe the event is,” says Pontious. “Is it more than one shooter? Is it a drive-by? Is there more than one weapon? Is it in the front yard, is it in the back yard, is it on the street? All things that are important to the chief and his team.”
The technology has proved to be effective in U.S. cities that have similar problems as Syracuse. When ShotSpotter was installed in the city of Camden, New Jersey in 2013, police reported a 48 percent decrease in reports of shots fired and other gun-related crimes.