Special Report: The Shot Spotter

911 operators can listen to the shots on their computers.
911 operators can listen to the shots on their computers.
Capt. Otis Perkins
Capt. Otis Perkins

Posted by: Mark Bullock - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - It's cutting-edge crime fighting technology that claims to pinpoint the exact location of gunfire. They call it the Shot Spotter. Montgomery is one of about 40 cities nationwide that installed it. Now, a year later, WSFA 12 News wanted to know how it's working, and at what cost.

The Shot Spotter system detects gunfire in a certain area of Montgomery, then transmits the data immediately to police. 911 operators can listen to the sound of the shots and see exactly where they rang out.

"It can put you within 15 meters of the gunshots," said Montgomery Police Captain Otis Perkins.

Montgomery resident Tina Coprich has noticed a difference since the Shot Spotter system was installed. When she first moved to her neighborhood, she says shootings happened all the time.

And now, she says, "we don't hear any more shooting like we used to. We used to hear a lot."

"This is one of the most vital pieces of policing tools that any police department can have," Perkins said.

Police provided WSFA 12 News with gunshot statistics in the affected area. Before the Shot Spotter system, there were as many as 250 gunshots reported every month. Today, that number has been cut in half.

"We have it low. We want to keep it low. And we want to drive it lower," Perkins said.

And that's why the city plans to expand the Shot Spotter system to other areas. But it won't be cheap. To cover a one-square mile area takes more than a dozen sensors or about $200,000.

It was paid for with a combination of federal grant money, city council allocations, and asset forfeiture funds.

Police say it's worth the money.

"It changes the mindset of people who might consider doing crimes with guns," said Perkins.

The Shot Spotter system can distinguish between gunshots and other similar sounds like firecrackers or backfires. It also helps officers establish new patrol routes and can even serve as evidence in court.

Many call it the future of law enforcement. It allows for faster response times and faster prosecutions, which in turn, cause would-be criminals to think twice.

"They know that the police are coming if they start shooting," said Coprich. "I don't think they can get away as fast as they've been getting away anymore."

The city hasn't yet approved an expansion of the Shot Spotter system, but police say the evidence is in their favor. They say there have been numerous occasions when officers have arrived on a scene so quickly that they were able to take a shooter into custody right away.

Police won't tell us which area of the city is covered by the Shot Spotter. Birmingham is the only other city in Alabama that uses it.

Click on the WEB EXTRAS above to see an animated Shot Spotter demonstration or to link to the Shot Spotter web site.