Local News

Gunshot technology helps Wilmington police respond to shootings

Posted August 20, 2015 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated August 20, 2015 6:40 p.m. EDT

— 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.