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Upgraded gunfire detection devices help New Haven crime numbers drop

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NEW HAVEN – An acoustic surveillance technology, which has helped the New Haven Police Department detect and locate gunfire in real-time, has gotten even more efficient this week.

ShotSpotter instantly notifies police of gunshot crimes in progress with data delivered to dispatch centers, patrol cars and, starting this week, New Haven police supervisors smart phones.

There are fewer than 90 cities worldwide that employ ShotSpotter, which is composed of an array of acoustic sensors strategically placed at least 30 or 40 feet off the ground in an area that has experienced steady gun activity.

“It is especially important to my crime scene unit, which I am the commander of, when looking for ballistic evidence,” said Detective Lt. Herb Johnson of the New Haven Police Dept.

After at least three sensors pick up a gunshot, the data is immediately sent to the ShotSpotter's California command center, where it is processed “with the accuracy of knowing within feet where it was shot, whether it's moving or not and how many guns are involved,” said New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman.

At 12:30 a.m. on Friday, May 27, ShotSpotter identified that shots had been fired near the intersection of Whalley Avenue and Sperry Street in the area of Stop & Shop. One of the two victims was struck in the head. Johnson said ShotSpotter was of great assistance.

From the time shots are detected, until the location is pinpointed and the information is sent to the officers’ phones, only 45 seconds has gone by.

“As of this week, it (data) goes to every sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant chief and chief's hip,” said Esserman

Also revised this week: the ShotSpotter coverage area in the Elm City was increased from one square mile to five square miles. It only detects gunshots that originate outdoors but it is able to decipher gunshots from other loud sounds, like a car backfiring or fireworks.

Statistics show that fewer than one in five unlawful gunshots are called into 9-1-1. By responding to all shooting events, in communities besieged with gun violence, police can develop stronger community collaborations, which is critical in gun violence deterrence.

ShotSpotter is not designed to record conversations, though. The sensors are only capable of capturing gunfire. If no gunshots were detected, sensors only retain audio less than 72 hours.

Several months ago, New Haven, which was the first municipality in the state to employ this technology, hosted the first ever ShotSpotter national conference.