13 INVESTIGATES: Shotspotter Progress - WNCT

13 INVESTIGATES: Shotspotter Progress

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BIRMINGHAM, AL - It was about an hour before lunch on one month ago, when multiple shots rang out on Birmingham's Alabama Avenue. Twenty-eight year old Jeffery Burkes had been murdered.

Police dispatcher Tracie Burton heard the shots detected by the Shotspotter system.

She credits the gunfire-tracking technology for pinpointing the victim's exact location.

That’s one example of how she believes the system still works six years after it went online here.

“Before Shotspotter, before '08, we had to rely on a lot of citizens.  They still do call, but this helps us a little bit better,” Burton pointed out.

Shotspotter uses hidden sensors scattered across Birmingham to monitor gunfire.

When a shot is fired near a sensor, Birmingham 911 is notified and a red dot appears on a dispatcher's computer screen, showing where the shot was fired.

Now that Birmingham has used the system for six years, we decided to take a look at its effectiveness.

So we sat down with Birmingham Police Deputy Chief Ray Tubbs.

When asked how much safer he thought the Birmingham streets are since the beginning of Shotspotter, Tubbs responded, “I think it is significantly safer because we have seen the incidences, the notifications go down for example, like on new year's eve and other significant locations.”

To silence celebratory gunfire, the City launched "operation crackdown" on recent New Year's Eves.

It uses Shotspotter data to concentrate its manpower on areas with the highest amount of detected gunfire in previous years.

To check out Deputy Chief Tubbs' claims, we requested the number of gunshot detections on New Year's Eve since operation crackdown began.

What we found over the last three years, the number of gunfire notifications has gone from 466, to 403, to 343.

That is a 26 percent drop since 2011.

In the last three years the City of Birmingham has expanded its Shotspotter system, from 90 sensors to 120 sensors.

That boosted its overall coverage area from 6 square miles to 7 square miles.

While that means the sensors over cover 5 percent of the City's overall square miles, the city believes by strategically placing the sensors in the higher crime areas and publicizing their exact locations, violators will think twice before pulling the trigger.

The last time we investigated Shotspotter's performance was in 2009.

At that time, Deputy Chief Tubbs told us they were debating the decision to expand the system.

“I would tell you, we've got to utilize what we've got now better.  Then while we're doing that we want to look at adding sensors,” Tubbs said in 2009.

So did they do a better job of utilizing Shotspotter in the city's law enforcement?

Deputy Chief Tubbs claimed in addition to operation crackdown, they have engrained Shotspotter into the day-to-day patrol model.

“By dispatchers analyzing every detection and passing along info to the officers on the street.  We're also doing a better job of canvassing the neighborhood, getting out the car, taking reports and looking for any kind of evidence or people that may have been involved in any kind of random gunfire,” Tubbs claimed.

Based on Birmingham City Council records, Birmingham has spent more than $1.5 million on Shotspotter through grants and other tax-funded sources.

Deputy Chief Tubbs says the city pays about $100,000 to maintain Shotspotter every year.

When asked if she thought taxpayers are getting their money's worth out of this technology, Dispatcher Tracie Burton replied, “I think so, I really do.  Because there's only so much the police department can do, you know, so any kind of equipment that will help the department to fight off crime is a plus.  It's worth it.  It's worth it.”

The city is currently negotiating a new contract with Shotspotter.

Deputy Chief Tubbs said he hopes as they go forward; they want to use the technology to track individual violators and convince them to correct their carelessness. 
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