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Anti-Sniper Technology Used in US Cities to Detect Shootings

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A new surveillance system has the ability to detect and locate gunshots, giving law enforcement agencies the ability to quickly respond to gun-related violence.

ShotSpotter uses a system of acoustic sensors that can discern the exact location and number of gunshots and shooters, and can, in some instances, use sound signatures to determine the type of weapon. This information is then sent to law enforcement, reducing the risk to responding officers and leaving them better-prepared to address an incident. 

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The system is designed to help secure residential neighborhoods, but could be used in public places though to be possible terrorism targets. ShotSpotter sensors are typically installed about 30 feet above street level, on utility poles or rooftops, using a three-step system that immediately alerts police, at the sound of the first shot.

It takes less than 45 seconds for law enforcement to receive and verify the data, which can then be sent to patrol cars or smartphones from dispatch or computers. The system reportedly works so quickly that information sometimes reaches law enforcement before a 911 call is made.

Currently ShotSpotter is trying to expand its reach by partnering with GE Current Lighting and Amazon Web Services. Cities including New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, and smaller cities such as Wilmington, North Carolina, and Trenton, New Jersey, are currently using the system. There said to be 90 ShotSpotter installations across the US and the world.

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"ShotSpotter gunfire data enables intelligent analysis," according to the company’s website. "With that, law enforcement can move from the reactive to the proactive. ShotSpotter has been called ‘a force multiplier’ because it provides critical information for better, more timely resource allocation — especially important as agencies are being asked to do more with less."

Critics of the system say that although the technology reports many shootings, this does not result in more arrests. In November 2016, Matt Drange wrote in Forbes Magazine, "The majority of ShotSpotter alerts lead to police closing the incident with words such as 'unfounded,' 'unable to locate,' or 'gone on arrival,' law enforcement jargon for: 'We didn't find anything.'"

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