Gunshot sensors show early success in Detroit neighborhoods

Police say 'ShotSpotter' helping drive down number of shootings

DETROIT – In a 3-square-mile area on Detroit's east side there have been 2,700 shootings over a recent 15-month period. 

Those are just gunfire events. Multiply that number by five and you'll get the number for actual bullets flying. 

However, recently the same area has seen a 24 percent drop in shootings. That's due in part to a new program called "ShotSpotter." Detroit police said even though it has a 5 percent error rate, they are impressed enough that it may go citywide. 

Here's the difference police are seeing: A 911 call comes in and takes an officer to the house where the caller reporting the shots lives. ShotSpotter pinpoints the source of the shot and, in one instance, police say it led officers right to the victim who had been shot. 

The microphones can be found throughout the city. They detect gunfire and triangulate to pinpoint where it came from. The results show from October to December there have been 24 percent fewer shooting than the same span of time in 2014. Non-fatal shootings have been cut in half. 

"The ShotSpotter run comes in, you get onto the scene. Officers knock on six doors on either side. The technology is amazing," said Deputy Chief Charles Fitzgerald, with the Detroit Police Department. "It puts you within feet of where the shooting occurred."

The data also helps police find trouble area so they can be proactive, such as putting a specific crew on the street to investigate. The Detroit Police Department is one of the first police departments to use the information from ShotsSpotter to obtain search warrants. 

"At one point last spring we took 14 guns off the street in four days," said Fitzgerald. 

Some neighbors say they have not noticed much of a change while others say they can hear the difference. 

"Everybody is doing their job, and it's quiet over here now," said Reginald Hester. 

Terri Hester said she was ready to move. 

"I was getting ready to move but it's better now and the police come around a lot more," she said. 

ShotSpotter can't stop shootings by itself. However, adding some eyes to go with the ears could revolutionize the way DPD fights crime. 

"Roll this in with our real-time crime center where we have a person sitting there watching the cameras and watching the runs that come through with the ShotsSpotter, instantly dispatching within 2-3 minutes ... yeah it would go a long way," said Fitzgerald. 

The next step is to go citywide -- 19 square miles. It would take 6-9 months to get the additional 16 square miles up and running. The city won't start paying until it's hot. 

The chief and the mayor have to sign off on it, and the city has to figure out where the money to pay for it will come from. 

A contract will go before Detroit City Council in 30 days. 

About the Author:

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.