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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