ShotSpotter contract clears Wilm. committee hearing

By Tom Lehman 6:40pm, February 10, 2014 - Updated 3:22pm, February 11, 2014
VIDEO: Interim Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings talks about the ShotSpotter contract with WDEL.
A three-year, $415,000 contract for a new gunfire tracking system cleared Wilmington's public safety committee on Monday and now goes to city council for a vote next week.

WDEL's Tom Lehman reports.

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If approved, the three-year agreement with ShotSpotter would allow the city's police department to utilize a network of gunshot-detecting sound sensors designed to triangulate the origin of gunfire.

Detailed information on the shooting would then be relayed to officers in less than a minute, according to a representative with the California company. The technology is employed in dozens of municipalities across the country.

Interim Police Chief Bobby Cummings said the system will provide officers with detailed information when shots are fired, even if some shootings are not reported.

"It allows us to go to these areas where these shots are being fired and to collect evidence so that if an incident does happen, we're then able to trace back these casings from guns that are being taken in other incidents," Cummings said.

Committee members welcomed the prospect of acquiring a ShotSpotter system, including Council President Theo Gregory (D), who said he was "fully in support" of the proposal.

Councilwoman Loretta Walsh (D-At Large), who chaired the meeting in place of Councilman Michael Brown (R-At Large), was excited about the new system and said "analytical policing is also smart policing."

However, she wished the city had implemented ShotSpotter when it was first considered in 2012, instead of the Sensor Enabled Neutral Threat Recognition system.

SENTRI uses sensors to pick up the sound of gunfire and turns a camera toward a shooting scene, but has only detected shots fired on five or six occasions since being activated about fifteen months ago.

On the single occasion that a camera did rotate toward gunshots, it was blocked by foliage.

"Two and a half years later when we could have been using ShotSpotter this entire time, we haven't. I'm thrilled to death over it," Walsh said.

Cummings has said SENTRI will not be expanded beyond its pilot phase.

"We're hoping (ShotSpotter) is going to be the right fit because it's going to give us more technology capabilities as far as being web-based,' he said. "The officers will be able to see the information in their vehicles and respond to the areas where the system is pinpointing where these shots are being fired from."

Mayor Williams is also in support of the proposal, calling it another tool that police can use to locate criminals.

"I support anything that's going to help us catch the perp and make us safe," Williams said.

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