ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system finding most shootings in Atlantic City - Technology

ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system finding most shootings in Atlantic City - Technology

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ShotSpotter gunshot-detection system finding most shootings in Atlantic City

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 11:50 pm

Atlantic City’s gunshot audio-detection system has aided investigations and led police to 84 percent of shooting incidents in the city in its first four months, officials said.

Since ShotSpotter went live May 11, there have been alerts to 70 shooting incidents — including 12 with victims, Sgt. Monica McMenamin said. There were 13 additional shootings that ShotSpotter did not capture, including five in which someone was struck.

Many of the missed shootings were in a specific area — which police would not name — leading to a decision to add an additional sensor, said Lt. James Sarkos, who has led the project.

Before the sensors were put up, technicians and police worked together to see where the sensors should go, taking into account various conditions, ShotSpotter Vice President Lydia Barrett explained, adding that tweaks after the system is activated are common.

“It’s a lot of science, but there’s also an art to it to,” she said. “We’re very good at both, and we make sure it’s the best that it can be coming out of the gate.”

The sensors triangulate to pick up any loud bang, and then experts listen to determine whether it was a gunshot. Once verified, an alert is sent to police. The process takes seconds and gives police an exact location.

“It’s details that are otherwise unobtainable,” Barrett said.

While a witness may call police after hearing a shot fired, they will not be able to give an exact location, how many rounds were fired or — as is the case with ShotSpotter — a recording of the shot or shots.

The information also helps when police track down a victim — often at the hospital — who is uncooperative.

“It cuts through everything,” McMenamin said. “We tell them we already know where it happened. ... It can take the interview in a different direction.”

Barrett said her company’s experience has been that the information “is helpful to either corroborate or contradict witness evidence.”

Last week, ShotSpotter alerted police to a shooting on the 600 block of Drexel Avenue. Officers couldn’t find a victim or crime scene but did see an abandoned bike, McMenamin said. Sgt. Richard Johnson then stopped a car and found three men inside — including shooting victim Shavar Terry, 22.

“He wasn’t forthcoming,” she said.

But police knew where the shooting occurred because of ShotSpotter.

The system alert is integrated with Bing maps, which show police the location the shots came from on a real map, giving officers information about exactly what they’re heading into, Sarkos said.

“It is a great tool for our detectives,” said Sarkos, who is a leader in the Special Investigations Section.

While he wouldn’t detail cases, he said the system has also given police indications of specific areas where gunfire has been a problem, leading to longer-term investigations that resulted in arrests and gun seizures.

Eventually, cameras — both those already up and planned additions — will be integrated with the system so that police have both eyes and ears on a shooting scene.

“Atlantic City is off to a great start with this,” Barrett said. “They’ve already incorporated best practices, and it’s a good partnership.”

For security reasons, police do not indicate exactly where the sensors are. Barrett said vandalism has not been a problem.

Of the estimated thousands of sensors the company has put up, fewer than 10 have been touched, she said.

“There isn’t a line-of-sight issue, so they can be put up pretty high,” Barrett said. “So, it’s kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ They also don’t look (out of the ordinary).”

Regardless, the sensors are monitored in case of problems.

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Lynda Cohen
  • Lynda Cohen
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Tip411 allows anonymous tips via text in Atlantic City

The tip411 system allows people to text information to police anonymously.

The Web-based system erases all identifying information when the text is sent, allowing police to have a two-way text conversation without knowing who the tipster is. People just text tip411 (847411) beginning the text with ACPD to ensure it goes to the department.

The program, developed by St. Paul, Minn.-based Citizen Observer, also allows alerts to go out to either the entire city or specified subgroups, which could include casino security, Boardwalk Ambassadors or certain neighborhoods where a crime may have occurred. It also can provide weather alerts or notification of traffic problems and detours.

Beginning in the summer of 2012, the system also gave the department its first foray into social media, bringing with it the set up of Facebook ( and Twitter ( accounts.

Locally, police departments in Vineland and Bridgeton, along with the the Cape May County Sheriff's Office also have the system.

ShotSpotter alerts police to gunfire in Atlantic City

Audio sensors set up throughout Atlantic City are helping police know where gunshots are fired — even when no one calls 911.

The ShotSpotter audio-detection system is activated whenever a boom or bang goes off in the city. Three or more sensors triangulate on the sound, which goes to a national operations center. Specialists trained in acoustics and gunfire analyze the information, and it's passed on to the municipality's dispatch — if the sound is determined to be a gunshot and not something else, such as fireworks.

The process, according to the company, takes about 30 to 40 seconds.

The city will not say where the sensors are as a precaution against possible attempts at tampering with them. They are made to blend in with their surroundings.

The system records how many shots were fired, time and location, and guarantees an 80 percent success rate, although police say it has been much higher. The aim is to eventually integrate the system with existing cameras to give police audio and video information.