Obviously “Shot Spotters” can spot gunshots. But one S.F. Supe is hoping they’ll do more -- and drag the police department into the 21st century.
By Joe Eskenazi
In yesterday’s article, we revealed how the amazing “Shot Spotters” recently approved for use in San Francisco can detect the sound of gunfire and send cops to the scene in a matter of seconds – yet still are far from a cure-all for a beleaguered department.
Today we’ll explore some of the more counter-intuitive and subtle rewards the system can deliver.
Across the Bay in Oakland, violent criminals have been prosecuted as a result of the high-tech system – but not in the way Shot Spotters’ proponents may have envisioned.
“Shot Spotters has many capabilities other than...
getting us to the scene right away. It’s also good additional evidence for crimes. We’ve used Shot Spotters to help us support shooting cases involving gunshot crimes and homicide,” says Lt. Darren Allison of the Oakland Police Department’s special operations group.
And that makes good sense -- because, at its essence, the Shot Spotter is an information recording tool. In the cases Allison is referring to, the device recorded the exact location and time of a shooting, making it easier for prosecutors to argue the case against suspects apprehended in the vicinity.
And while the Shot Spotter is essentially a reactive device, its data can be used proactively: Large clusters of gunfire in a certain area should tell cops that they might need to alter their patrol patterns. Barrages of unreported gunfire can also bluntly inform police that a little more community outreach might be needed in certain neighborhoods.
That’s along the lines of what attracted Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to Shot Spotters in the first place (The District 5 supervisor’s office has been pushing for San Francisco to audition the system since 2005). While Shot Spotters' manufacturer and the tech-obsessed present the device as something out of “Robocop,” in which killers can be pinpointed and taken down in a matter of seconds, Mirkarimi is more intrigued by the system’s potential for diplomacy.
“With the Shot Spotter system, this is something that will answer a much deeper question, and that is: If a person or property is not hit by a bullet, does law enforcement respond enough when gunfire occurs?” he asks.
Plenty of denizens in the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods – where Shot Spotters will first be installed – have complained to Mirkarimi and anyone else who will listen that it takes a bullet-riddled body pumping blood into the gutter for the police to deign it worthwhile to show up.
With Shot Spotters in place faithfully recording gunfire, Mirkarimi points out that it will now be quantifiable whether or not the SFPD responds to gunfire incidents in these neighborhoods. But that’s only part of Mirkarimi’s plan. He hopes the high-tech, data-spewing system will force the police department to upgrade its Atari 2600-era hardware.
“In many city departments, the inadequacy of the IT systems is astounding. And the police department is the worst, which is horrendous considering people’s lives are at stake,” says Mirkarimi.
"Star Trek"-like mainframes don't just hamper the department's ability to respond quickly. They also make it difficult to record data -- and Shot Spotters will produce mountains of data.
“It is a painstaking process going through the Public Safety Commission every month and trying to get even basic data on all levels of crime," continues Mirkarimi. "It really undercuts the men and women who serve on the police department and criminal justice system by having such a handicapped IT system.”
In a nutshell, Mirkarimi is hoping a system designed to apprehend violent criminals will instead bust the SFPD’s status quo.
“I think Shot Spotters is going to force things. … It will draw attention to what I believe is an antiquated department.”