Local tech company helps cops fight gun violence


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.


Like this comment
Posted by Big Bro
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

LMAO no gun violence in Mountain View, yet when you go to the police station, they have bullet proof glass to protect themselves. From whom i should be asking?

Like this comment
Posted by Smarter Little Bro
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

You should visit more police stations because they ALL have a bullet proof glass in the front.

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Posted by Sad
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Sad, technology developed in our backyard and our own police department doesn't get to use it. Too bad a deal wasn't worked out so they can test new technology in town and provide the service when the company is not testing.

Like this comment
Posted by Wally
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Install a few hundred on Latham.

Unless of course it's already been surrendered to the thugs

Like this comment
Posted by Gary
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I think "increases his department's response time" is either a typo or a mistake on the police chief's part. I'm sure he meant to say "decreases".

Like this comment
Posted by The Eye
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2011 at 10:56 pm

The Eye is a registered user.

Kind of pointless to even upload this story in this periodical, if Mountain View has decided against it, isn't it?

Oh, that's right, we don't have that much gun violence in this city. And I guess I just imagined that story about the young boy who scared an *gun-armed thug* out of his family's home with a BB gun, the home invaders holding someone hostage until they backed away and ran off? That and a number of other gun-related stories over the last year? ONE incident of gun violence is ONE TOO MANY, MVPD! You're assertion of:

"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."

...just seems rather stupid, now doesn't it? Shame on you, MVPD, for not using an effective technology that can save lives and prevent crime, or at least help catch those committing violent gun crime in our city.!

Like this comment
Posted by Fisckle
a resident of Castro City
on Aug 9, 2011 at 8:52 am

Take a deep breath Eye. Did you see the costs and read what the technology does? It calls police to the scene AFTER the crime, or errant firearm discharge occurs (or other loud sound that triggers the system). Not very effective in prevention unless you have a lot of gunshots going off each night. There's more effective ways to use the money. I think your jump to point a finger and protest "Shame" is over emotional. It'd be a total waste of money for Mtn Vioew to take on these costs, esp when the need to track down gunshots to the block at which they already occurred is minimal, thank goodness.

Like this comment
Posted by NW Resident
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I think the point of including the article here was not because of MVPD's decision on the technology, but to spotlight a Mountain View company with a unique technology and business model that is trying to help solve a problem for some communities.

I agree that it would be cost prohibitive for MV to deploy this technology, but it seems to be worth the investment for some communities that need it, like EPA. It's probably been used in many criminal cases that we don't hear about in the media.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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