Shotspotter technology could help Oakland police locate gunshots

Police Chief Anthony Batts says funds are available to install the new Shotspotter technology.

Police Chief Anthony Batts says funds are available to install the new Shotspotter technology.

The city council’s Public Safety Committee approved a contract renewal during a meeting on Tuesday to install a new version of the sound monitors that would help police pinpoint gunshots in Oakland. With the Shotspotter technology, the Oakland Police Department will receive notifications of gunshots and explosives through devices installed on rooftops across the city.

According to an OPD report issued in 2007, the department purchased an earlier version of Shotspotter in 2006, paying $366,920 for a one-year lease. The technology was activated in October 2006, but due to communication and understaffing issues and the fact that the alerts were directed to dispatchers at the police stations rather than to the officers in their cars, some of the officers’ responses were delayed, according to the report.

After the initial contract lapsed, the equipment remained installed but the city stopped using it.

OPD Captain Ersie Joyner speaks in favor of renewing the Shotspotter contract

The new version of Shotspotter would resolve the previous technical issues by allowing police officers to receive alerts on gunshots in the field in a matter of seconds instead of routing the alerts through the police station. “This system will help us advantage our limited resources and be more efficient,” said OPD Captain Ersie Joyner during the committee meeting.

Renewing the contract with Shotspotter will cost the city $84,151. Other cities that use this system include Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Rochester, New York and Gary, Indiana, according to Shotstopper’s website.

Oakland Vice Mayor Desley Brooks, who spoke in favor of installing the Shotspotter system, said there were 471 gunshots fired in Oakland in August. She said that with this technology, officers could arrive at the location of the gunshot on time, making it easier to assess the veracity of reports filed with the OPD. “Police won’t be driving up and down the street figuring out where the shot is coming from,” she said.

Shotspotter would also allow officers to differentiate between gunshots and explosives of a less threatening nature, such as fireworks, Brooks said.

Brooks said OPD has received a large number of reports with inaccurate information regarding gunshot locations, as well as false reports of guns being fired. She said it costs the department $8,000 every time police officers start an investigation with wrong information. “We don’t have enough resources for officers to spend that kind of time tracing down information that is simply not accurate,” she said.

Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (District 2) said a parcel tax that will be on the ballot during the November election could help fund expansion of the technology to more neighborhoods. “I’m hopeful this system would bring crime down,” she said.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan says Shotspotter would also discourage illegal use of guns.

Six members of the public spoke in favor of the system during the meeting. “Please reinstall Shotstopper, please,” said Kim Jackson, a technology sales consultant from East Oakland. “I’m terrified, every night I stay in my house after it gets dark. I hear gun shots.”

The city council will vote on the contract renewal proposal on Tuesday, November 4.

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