A local crime-prevention-technology company is working to change the way police departments across the country fight gun violence and illegal gun use.
Headquartered in Mountain View, ShotSpotter builds networks of location-aware acoustic sensors, which record and pinpoint the source of gunfire or explosions in a given city.
Law enforcement agencies that subscribe to the service can use the recorded audio to respond to incidents of gunfire in real time; the recordings have also stood up in court as evidence during trials.
"One of the key missions of our company is to reduce gun violence and illegal gun use," said Lydia Barrett, vice president of marketing and communications for ShotSpotter.
In the past, after ShotSpotter set up an array of geo-tagged acoustic sensors for a law enforcement agency, it was up to that agency to monitor the system. Systems have been set up in 58 cities throughout four countries, including Panama, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the United States.
In the future, however, the activity picked up by the acoustic sensors will be monitored by ShotSpotter's staff of experts, who will, in turn, relay information to the subscribing agencies.
The service has always been a time-saver for emergency responders, according to Barrett. Now, she said, ShotSpotter will be cheaper for subscribing agencies than it was before. Set-up costs will be lower, as agencies will not have to purchase the hardware needed to collect the data from the acoustic sensors.
According to Doris Cohen, a gunshot forensic analyst for ShotSpotter, when an average citizen calls 911 to report hearing gunshots, it may take the responding dispatch center several minutes to relay that information to police in the field. Dispatchers must first vet each call to make sure a caller is telling the truth. Getting an accurate description of the shots' location can be difficult, as people reporting gunshots are often unsure of where the sound came from.
With the ShotSpotter system, the location of each round fired is triangulated and fed to officers in the field within seconds.
"We use it extensively on a regular basis," said Jeff Liu, acting captain of the East Palo Alto Police Department. According to Liu, it increases his department's response time, allows officers to determine exactly how many shots have been fired and has served as evidence in criminal prosecutions.
Liu said that the system has been a great investment for his city, adding that ShotSpotter is "not like Big Brother," since the acoustic sensors are not as sensitive as microphones and do not pick up people's conversations.
The Mountain View Police Department at one point discussed using ShotSpotter's services, but ultimately decided against it, according to Liz Wylie, public information officer for the department.
Wylie was not sure why the department decided against using ShotSpotter, but she did acknowledge that gun violence is not a big problem in Mountain View.
"We don't have a lot of reports of shots fired, and there are even fewer shootings in town," she said.
ShotSpotter builds a city monitoring system in blocks, three square miles at a time, Barrett said. A typical block will have about 45 acoustic sensors. Each three-square-mile block costs about $150,000 to install and run for the first year. In subsequent years, it costs a city about $120,000 per block, Barrett said.