DURHAM, N.C. — The ShotSpotter gunfire detection technology launched Thursday in Durham after months of delay.
The technology is controversial, sparking debate in the community about effectiveness and privacy.
The Durham Police Department oversees the rollout of ShotSpotter.
Sensors are placed on buildings and will notify police if gunshots are detected even if no 911 call has been made.
There have been hurdles to the rollout. It was supposed to begin in September. The rollout was delayed, in part, due to getting permission from Durham property owners for sensors. The Durham Public School Board unanimously voted against any sensors on schools.
When a gun is fired in an area within ShotSpotter coverage, the system detects, locates and immediately alerts police to the gunshot. Multiple sensors detect the precise location and time of the sound based on the amount of time it takes for the sound of the gunshot to travel to each individual sensor.
Once an alert is generated, it is sent to ShotSpotter’s incident review center, where trained acoustic experts analyze each incident to determine if the sound is gunfire. ShotSpotter then can dispatch police officers to the scene.
The ShotSpotter technology does not replace the need for someone to call 911 if they hear gunshots.
If an alert goes off in an area, police will attempt to contact a resident or leave a door hanger. The door hanger has a number and QR code for a survey. It is one way they will evaluate the new way of responding to calls.
“While it is too early to measure the effectiveness of the gunshot detection technology in Durham, we are going to consistently gather data and report it to the public as appropriate,” the Durham Police Department wrote in a news release. “The primary metrics that will be measured include response times to sound of shots calls, the number of lives saved, and ShotSpotter’s direct correlation to reduction in violent crime in our community.”
Durham’s year-long pilot program for ShotSpotter will cost the city $197,500.
Durham Fraternal Order of Police spokesperson Larry Smith, a retired deputy chief of the Durham Police Department, said he thinks ShotSpotter will help the city’s police department.
“Anytime you have some technology that’s going to immediately notify officers of gunfire where they can get into the area quickly, that can help maybe with apprehension or evidence collection,” Smith said. “My understanding in hearing most recently some of the discussion around it, is it would actually help getting [Emergency Medical Services to respond] quicker, and getting people and victims to the hospital, which, that’s always a good thing.”
For years, Durham Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton has been a proponent of ShotSpotter. He said he believes it will save lives, pointing to other cities that have already deployed it.
“When you get to an emergency sooner, whether it’s a fire, a medical emergency, or someone falling in a swimming pool, the chance of saving life increases,” Middleton said. “So, it would follow that same thing that happened in Wilmington, and soon our friends in Fayetteville, who are looking at deployment soon.”
WRAL News asked Middleton whether he thinks ShotSpotter will save lives in Durham.
“Well, it’s saved lives in Wilmington. It’s saved lives in Goldsboro. It’s saved lives in Chicago,” Middleton said. “It’s saved lives in cities all across the country.”
While ShotSpotter sensors will cover only 2.7% of Durham land mass, the city said the area had the highest concentration of gunfire events. The city said it includes 33.9% of all of reports of someone shot.
ShotSpotter has the option for cameras, but Durham is not using that. Durham is only using audio sensors placed on buildings.