Detroit Police Department makes pitch to continue ShotSpotter program

It uses sensors to detect gunfire, triangulate exact area, alert police.

DETROIT – When crime statistics for 2019 were released earlier this year, Detroit found itself leading the country in violent crime.

Police chief James Craig said one of the main reasons why was more illegal guns on the street. And gunfire rings out in the city so often, it’s become white noise to people in some neighborhoods.

“It’s become so commonplace people don’t call it in anymore, said Detroit police Capt. Aric Tosqui. “We lose the chance to investigate and to collect evidence.”

Now Detroit police are adding a new tool in the fight against guns. ShotSpotter -- a pilot program in 2014-2016 -- is a way for police to pinpoint gunfire. It uses sensors to detect gunfire, triangulate the exact area and alert police.

In 2014, it was used in a 2.18 square mile area of the ninth precinct. In the two-year period of the pilot program, ShotSpotter produced 18 search warrants, 30 weapons recovered, 571 rounds of ammunition collected and nine felony arrests, according to Detroit police.

“Those are not eye-popping statistics, but we got some dangerous criminals off the streets,” says Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson.

Police want to take ShotSpotter to its full capabilities by installing it in two high-gun areas -- one near the Northwest corner around Seven Mile Road, part of District One and the other in the Northeast corner, which makes up parts of Districts Three and Four. It would cover a 6.48 square mile area.

“We want to make sure our police officers have the tools they need to keep our city safe,” said Council Pro Tem Mary Sheffield. “I do believe ShotSpotter is one of those tools.”

Council will have to approve the cost of ShotSpotter, which is $1.5 million over its four-year contract with the city. That works out to about $371,000 per year, or $62,500 per square mile, according to Benson.

“We can’t put a price on human life,” Sheffield said. “However, certain questions would need to be answered in order to determine the cost-effectiveness and efficacy of the ShotSpotter technology such as: Did the shots that were spotted \involve a crime in commission? Did the felony arrests involve persons with dangerous criminal pasts? Was it used to solve crimes involving a shooting victim or or attempted homicide? If so, would there have been any other evidence that would have lead to an arrest absent the technology?”

Benson believes the program will be much more robust now that it will have a full investment from police in terms of manpower and resources that come with the deal, which include gunfire analysis and gunfire experts to testify in criminal cases, if needed. Currently, DPD has National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) technology to do ballistic evidence testing and Precinct Intel Units for analysis and intelligence resources.

Police are trying to head off any privacy concerns at the pass by assuring residents that there will be no real-time listening to the sensors -- just to recorded video where they believe there was gunfire. DPD also says it is not using any facial recognition technology with ShotSpotter.

About the Authors:

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.

DeJanay Booth joined WDIV as a web producer in July 2020. She previously worked as a news reporter in New Mexico before moving back to Michigan.