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Gunshot technology helps Wilmington police respond to shootings

Posted August 20, 2015

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— Law enforcement agencies are relying on technology more these days to help them do their jobs. In Wilmington, acoustic technology picked up the sound of gunfire and led police straight into a homicide investigation within minutes.

“This narrows it down quite a bit and directs our officers pretty precisely and accurately as to where to go,” said Wilmington Police Captain Jim Varrone.

Wilmington police is one of three in the state using the technology through a company called ShotSpotter. Varrone would not reveal the shot spotter locations as not to jeopardize future investigations.

However, the technology proved valuable during the early hours of Sunday morning when it alerted officers to go to the 700 block of Kidder Street. There, in a car, they found the body of a 33-year-old man who was the victim of a homicide.

“Within close proximity as to where the technology said the gunfire came from, we were able to recover some fire lodge casings, some bullet casings there,” Varrone said.

It's a tragic example of how gunshot acoustic technology can help. In neighborhoods where calling the police may be looked down upon, Varrone says this tool combats the no-snitching mentality by cutting out the need for a 911 call and getting officers to a scene as many as 5 minutes sooner than with a phone call.

“We’ve been Johnny on the Spot on several occasions where we were actually right around the corner. We got the alert, and we made apprehension with people with the gun in their hands,” Varrone said.

Shot Spotter is similar to military-style technology and costs the department about $100,000 per year. Varrone says this is not a cure all, but it does speed up the crime-solving process.

“We knew that what we were doing – the old track down chase cases, put somebody in jail, maybe they get time, maybe they get probation – isn’t working. So we really needed to focus on the response and the prevention,” he said.

Wilmington police say they’ve had to retrain officers on what to do in dangerous environments since implementing Shot Spotter. Since the technology improves response time, there is a greater risk of officers walking into actively hostile situations.

8 Comments

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  • Chris Hall Aug 21, 2015
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    That is true, but at a sensitively to hear a gunshot hundreds of yards away not at your typical conversation volume (imagine all the conversations occurring simultaneously within a gunshot’s sound range) Unless these things have hundreds of super sensitive directional microphones I do not think it is possible (within the next few decades at least) to eavesdrop on a few city blocks at a time. If you are still concerned with it, make sure all of your plans to overthrow the government or cheat on your wife are done indoors or at least next to a loud radio ;)

  • Jim Frei Aug 21, 2015
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    I would conclude this Shot Spotter system is set up in the close vicinity to the 700 block of Kidder Street.

  • Sam Adams Aug 21, 2015
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    Understandable, but also realize that in order for these systems to work, EVERYTHING is recorded and monitored.

  • Chris Hall Aug 21, 2015
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    You must fire guns illegally a lot (within the city limits for that matter) to be concerned by this. I shoot TONS but I own 10 acres in the country. If I am in Wilmington and need to fire a gun….I hope the police can get there ASAP because the situation was not planned on my end ;)

  • George Orwell Aug 21, 2015
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    These systems are normally only deployed in troublesome inter-city areas (currently in USA)where it is illegal to discharge a weapon even on your own property. I am surprised it is in Wilmington though. I would have expected Durham or Fayetteville with the higher homicide/gun crimes rates.

  • Sam Adams Aug 21, 2015
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    Just another example of how we are losing our civil liberties and how we are becoming a police state.

    If the recent NSA scandals — domestic spying and phone taps on foreign leaders — have taught us anything, it should be that too much surveillance results in collecting too much data that can never be adequately analyzed. Can’t we stop and take a breath here and figure out if every living, breathing person needs to be subjected to surveillance to keep the country safe?

    Yes, we have the technology now to monitor millions and millions of our own citizens, innocent people just going about their lives. The question is: should we? Where’s the line between controlling the technology and the technology controlling us? If George Orwell were still alive, he would surely be warning us to take care.

  • Brian White Aug 21, 2015
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    Are the police going to show up if I'm out shooting in my backyard? Seems like this would lead to a lot of wasted resources.

  • Randy Riddle Aug 21, 2015
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    The ACLU has raised questions about this technology. In Massachusetts, it was discovered that the technology, which uses multiple microphones recording sounds over a large area, picks up private conversations and the recordings were used in a least one court case. There's a concern that police may use the technology for monitoring of conversations in public areas for tips and leads that might violate the Fourth Amendment. In addition, at recently as 2012, there was debate on whether these systems were effective or lead to "wild goose chases". The reporter might have been a little more thorough digging on this one since the licensing and use of this proprietary technology involves a significant outlay of taxpayer funds and involves police training that would touch on Constitutional issues.