New technology could help pinpoint random gunfire - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

New technology could help pinpoint random gunfire


New technology, used at police agencies around the country, can help departments track down random gunfire.

The systems might have been able to help find out who fired that celebratory gunshot in Brandermill on the Fourth of July last year that randomly took the life of 7-year-old Brendon Mackey. Instead, police are still struggling to pinpoint where the stray bullet originated.

They say a bullet doesn't have a name. That was never more heart-breakingly clear than last Fourth of July when Brendon Mackey collapsed to the ground in front of his father after a stray bullet fell from the sky and pierced the top of his head. 

Fireworks followed by celebratory gunfire, it happens all the time across Central Virginia. Can you even hear the difference between a firework and a gunshot? There's a company that says it has the technology that can. It's called ShotSpotter.

Cities are paying for a series of sensors set high above the most dangerous streets. Placed on buildings or light posts, they use high-tech acoustic triangulation to pinpoint the location of gunfire and alert dispatchers. They can even give detailed locations to the officers.

"You can actually tell that officer that it came from the left rear corner of the house just around a wooded section," said Maj. Johnnie Jennings with the Charlotte, NC, Police Department.

ShotSpotter is pricey at about $50,000 per square mile. That means police have to shell out big bucks or be very selective deciding which neighborhoods get the new technology.
You can find ShotSpotter in big cities across America. In Charlotte, officers tested out the equipment on that city's streets, firing rounds into a wooden board to see if ShotSpotter could report to dispatch their exact location.  

Smaller towns like Wilmington, NC, are even giving it a go. It's not always accurate, but police in Charlotte says they've noticed the technology improves over time.

"The longer you have the system, the more shots it's able to recognize, the more effective it is and the more accurate it is as well," said Jennings.

So far, none of our local jurisdictions are using this technology.

"We have looked at this technology before. Until 2012, it was very expensive and not very reliable. It is now primarily used in urban areas, often in conjunction with video cameras that can pan toward the direction of the shots. Some agencies have claimed recent success after the technology improvement in 2012. As this technology has seemed better suited for urban areas, we have not pursued ShotSpotter for Chesterfield," said Chesterfield Police spokesperson Elizabeth Caroon.

Richmond Police also looked into this technology, but a spokesperson says as of now, the department hasn't tried to buy it. 

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