San Diego police testing 'ShotSpotter' system that pinpoints location of shootings, explosions

Posted at 12:46 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2017-04-24 09:49:02-04

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Police Department began testing a high-tech sound-based system designed to immediately pin down the locations of shootings and explosions so officers can respond to emergencies and begin gathering crime-scene evidence as quickly as possible.

The "ShotSpotter" technology, which uses concealed audio sensors and triangulation to provide accurate GPS readings of the origins of gunfire and ordnance-type detonations, is being tried out in the Valencia Park, Lincoln Park, O'Farrell and Skyline districts, SDPD public affairs Lt. Scott Wahl said.

Officers conducted live-fire testing of the equipment at about three dozen locations in those communities after going door-to-door to notify area residents. The personnel used bullet-collecting canisters that eliminated any hazards from the gunfire, Wahl said.

"We feel that this is an effective tool that's going to hopefully impact overall gun violence in our communities," said San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl.

The "nationally accepted" system -- utilized by police agencies in various U.S. cities, including Miami, Milwaukee and New York -- promptly provides officers nearest shootings or blasts with locations of the incidents via the mobile computers in their patrol cruisers. Additionally, it captures sound recordings for evidentiary purposes.

Barring problems with the network, SDPD officials plan to have it up and running in the four testing areas in the "very near future," and intend to deploy it in other parts of the city eventually, according to Wahl.

"ShotSpotter is one method of using technology and innovation to provide the highest-quality police services to the community we so proudly serve," the lieutenant said.

Wahl said the department used asset forfeiture funds to pay for a one-year lease of the system.

"If we can save one life or prevent one shooting, then it's money well spent," Wahl said.

Forbes recently looked at ShotSpotter alerts across several cities and found many of the alerts were unfounded.

A spokesperson for ShotSpotter told Team 10, "The value of ShotSpotter is not about leading to on-scene shooting arrests, but about preventing gun violence in the first place."

The company also noted, "In 2015, the 46 cities where ShotSpotter data was analyzed for year-over-year trends, the overall median reduction in gunfire was 12.8%."

San Diego police say with any new technology there are going to be challenges you have to work through.

"Our focus is to keep our communities safe," Wahl said. "So we're taking advantage of new technology that's out there and we're going to see if it works for us."