An in-depth look at ShotSpotter and why more cities are using the tech
By Jacki Billings
Many cities entrenched in a war on gun violence are combating illegal gun use in at-risk areas by turning to technology and data-based policing. Billed as a “gunshot detection, acoustic surveillance technology,” ShotSpotter uses sensors strategically placed in a three- to five-square mile radius to detect and map out gunshots. Sensors detect a boom, bang or pop and then the program notates the time and location and ships the information alongside an audio snippet to an Incident Review Center, which deciphers if the noise is actually gunfire. From there a team member analyzes the data and determines if it should be forwarded to local law enforcement.
While the process sounds lengthy, it actually takes about 45 seconds between gunfire and digital alert — even during celebratory periods like New Year’s and Independence Day, where pops and bangs are more prevalent. The information allows officers to respond and investigate with a wealth of intel. The system provides access to maps of shooting locations and gunshot audio alongside estimates of potential shooters and shots fired.
ShotSpotter originated in the early 1990s with development driven by creator Dr. Robert Showen, who worked at the Stanford Research Institute in East Palo Alto, where at the time