Law-enforcement technologyShot spotting system helps Stockton, Calif. Police reduce gunfire

Published 17 December 2013

ShotSpotter sensors detect gunfire, then immediately transmit a signal to control center where technicians use triangulation to locate the spot of origin of the firing to within five to ten feet. The technician reports the location within thirty to forty seconds to the police to dispatch officers to the scene. Stockton, California police has been using ShotSpotter for nine months now, and the police chief says the system has helped reduce gunfire in the covered area by fifty percent.

Last Tuesday, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones held a news conference to introduce ShotSpotter Flex, a gunfire detection system which, since August 2013, has been helping officers in Stockton control gun violence in the city.

Our No. 1 priority is to reduce gun violence,” Jones said.

Along with regional collaborations with other law enforcement agencies, Stockton Police Department’s (SPD) understaffed force has to “rely on technology like never before. We must absolutely embrace it,” according to Jones.

Recordnetreports that the ShotSpotter sensors detect gunfire, then immediately transmit a signal to a Bay Area headquarters where a technician uses triangulation to locate the spot of origin to within five to ten feet. The technician reports the location within thirty to forty seconds to SPD’s communications center to dispatch officers to the scene.

Chief Jones would not reveal the two square miles of Stockton where ShotSpotter has been deployed during its nine-month pilot program, but he did report that an early analysis has shown the system has helped reduce gunfire in the covered area by fifty percent. According to RecordNet, Chief Jones shared several incidents during the past four months in which SPD responded to ShotSpotter alerts:

  • A victim’s car was fired upon in an intersection by two shooters. The victim’s vehicle was struck three times, but no one in the vehicle was struck. Responding officers found eleven expended .45-caliber shell casings at the scene. An investigation led to the arrest of two suspects that day who later pleaded guilty. Both received prison time and probation.
  • When officers arrived for a single gunshot, they found the shooter in the front yard of the residence with a loaded .22-caliber rifle leaning against a tree. The shooter had a pocketful of .22-caliber casings and admitted to firing the rifle.
  • Community Response Team officers attempted to make contact at a residence where two shots were identified and they heard a subject run through the house and subsequently throw a loaded and stolen .40-caliber pistol into the backyard. A search of the yard turned up two expended .40-caliber shell casings. The residence was known for gang activity and the residents refused to open the door and told officers to get a warrant. A search warrant was served and officers located ammunition for a 9mm, 7.62 x 39, and .22-caliber shell casings, a holster, gang attire and 56 grams of marijuana. During questioning, one subject admitted to being in possession of the firearm. ShotSpotter also has assisted detectives in a recent homicide investigation, Jones said, calling it “an extra piece of evidence.”

Chief Jones said his department is “integrating our policing strategies and tactics with the use of the ShotSpotter Flex service to provide the gunfire data and intelligence we need to combat gun violence and related gun crime.” The system has helped officers respond faster and with better preparation to a hot spot while providing valuable investigation assets that lead to effective prosecutions for illegal gun use.

The system is supported by SST Inc., the Newark-based developer of ShotSpotter, which is investing about $100,000 in Stockton. During the pilot program, Stockton does not have to pay the normal management fee of $45,000 to $65,000 per square mile per year. SST president and CEO Ralph Clark believes Stockton is a prime candidate for the ShotSpotter due to the police department’s lack of sufficient police officers. Clark insists that Chief Jones is “a chief that wants to do something,” calling him a progressive leader.

Clark is an Oakland native with a fondness for Stockton after graduating from University of the Pacific in 1980. “Let’s do something for this chief, this city,” Clark said.

Should Stockton decide to adopt the ShotSpotter system after the pilot period, Clark has agreed to provide resources to help fund the program. Chief Jones noted that state and federal agencies may provide some grants or the city may consider a public/private partnership or a community fundraiser.

ShotSpotter operates in about seventy-five cities in the United States. It covers twenty square miles in Washington, D.C. the largest city where the system is deployed. ShotSpotter also operates in Brazil and Panama. “I think there are 2,000 cities or agencies out of 16,000 relevant to what we do” that are potential customers for ShotSpotter, Clark said. The company claims to not have a competing product.