Recommended gunshot sensor has iffy accuracy


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the recommendations from a task force aiming to make Grand Rapids safer would come with a hefty price tag and is not working well in some other cities.

The task force presented 50 recommendations in its SAFE report to the city on Tuesday. Among them was a suggestion to install devices that are supposed to detect the sound of gunshots in neighborhoods.

They’re called ShotSpotters. They’re supposed to sense when shots are fired and alert police, speeding up response times.

Installing the ShotSpotters would cost the city $45,000 per square mile, according to task force chair and Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear.

“What I know about ShotSpotter is that it’s technology that can be used to detect gunshots, gunfire and it’s specific enough to discern the difference between gunfire and even firecrackers,” Lenear said.

The city was told by the company that the system can even tell what type of gun was fired.

But the ShotSpotters don’t have a very good record of effectiveness, 24 Hour News 8 found. A quick Google search revealed news stories reporting the devices picking up other loud noises like a dump truck, fireworks or even a door shutting and sounding a false alarm that a gun was fired.

In one report from Connecticut, police records from 2012 showed that out of 60 ShotSpotter alerts, only six were confirmed gunfire. That’s an accuracy rate of only 10 percent. A police memo from the next year showed 8 percent accuracy.

A 2013 report from a New York police department showed 7 percent accuracy. Other departments complained of the same problem.

Lenear said her task force didn’t see those reports. Commissioners did go on a visit organized by ShotSpotter to South Bend, Ind., where they claim the system is working well.

“I think it’s money well spent,” Grand Rapids Police Department Chief David Rahinsky said.

He favors implementing the system. He was also not aware of any problems with ShotSpotters until 24 Hour News 8 brought them to him, but they didn’t change his mind.

“I would rather our officers respond to calls when they’re not needed than God forbid miss one shots fired call in any of our neighborhoods,” Rahinsky said.

So is investing taxpayer money in a system with a shaky reputation the right thing to do?

“I think the research, us doing the research right now is the best thing for us to do,” Lenear said.

A concern expressed in another report was about citizens’ privacy. The ShotSpotters pick up a lot of sound, even private conversations, and can record it.

Getting the ShotSpotters is far from a done deal — it’s still merely one suggestion out of 50.

Shotspotter told the city that their program keeps getting more accurate. Requests from 24 Hour News 8 for comment Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.

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Online:

The full SAFE report (pdf)

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