It’s hard to say where McGruff the Crime Dog would land on the ShotSpotter debate, but I bet he would commend its intentions.
Let’s back up: If you don’t live in one of the more than 90 cities across the country that employs this high-tech surveillance system, you might not know what it is. ShotSpotter is a gunshot detection technology that’s marketed to reduce gun violence. It uses a network of microphones installed around a city or neighborhood – on rooftops, street lamps; basically anywhere up high.
The idea is that once gunshot-like sounds occur and three or more sensors pick up the sound, ShotSpotter plots the noise on a map and notifies police dispatchers. Officers then rush toward the location, ideally to catch the shooters, help victims and/or collect possible evidence.
Sounds good in theory, right? Unfortunately, in practice, police often come up empty-handed because people rarely stick around after firing a gun. And while the technology has been used as evidence in court in a handful of states, it generally plays a minor role for prosecutors and police trying to reduce gun crime.
On this episode of Reveal, reporter Matt Drange takes a closer look at ShotSpotter by digging into thousands of alerts in cities across the country. A clear pattern emerged: lots of calls, few tangible results.
Take San Francisco, for example, where there were more than 3,000 ShotSpotter alerts over a two-and-a-half-year period. Of those, two resulted in arrests. And only one was gun related.
Nationwide, the system is costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year. We wanted to find out: What’s the public getting in return?
For more of our stories on the manufacturing, regulation and trafficking of guns, go here.