ShotSpotter illustration
A diagram from ShotSpotter shows how their gunshot locator technology uses microphones to triangulate and identify gunshots in urban areas. Seattle is considering funding the technology in their 2013-14 budget.

Longtime West Seattle block watch captain’s request might just come true: Gunshot locators for Seattle

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West Seattle resident and block watch captain Dick Hurley has been keeping his eyes and ears on his Sunrise Heights neighborhood and beyond for decades now, and every chance he gets (including a recent town hall meeting), he asks Seattle’s leadership if they will consider funding gunshot locator technology.

It appears his request has a chance at fruition as Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn recently announced his intent to fund gunshot locator technology (he also hopes to fund 10 additional police officers, upgraded in-car video equipment and improved crime analysis capabilities) in the 2013-14 budget.

Called ShotSpotter, the automatic gunshot locator system is expected to cost $950,000 over two years for installation and operation, according to a press release from the Mayor’s office.

“The City will install up to 52 mobile gunshot locator units near (shooting) hot spots, with each having a minimum 600-foot radius range and each having the ability to stream video,” according to the Mayor’s office. “They can be moved in response to special events or changing crime patterns. These units can determine if a gunshot has occurred within 4/10th’s of a second, pinpoint the location to within a 50-foot radius and determine the caliber of weapon that was fired with a 90 percent accuracy rate.”

The evidence-gathering capabilities and real-time data provided by the system could be a true benefit to Seattle police officers responding to shots fired calls, and Hurley, during a crime prevention meeting on Sept. 18, said he sees additional advantages.

He has called 911 many times over his years – from car wrecks in the neighborhood to shots fired 10 blocks away – and considers himself familiar with the process. One problem he has encountered is when speaking with a 911 operator and saying he just heard gunshots, the first question is often, “How do you know they were gunshots?” (he responds with his military background and regular shooting practice at a gun range).

Hurley believes the new system could quickly corroborate the validity of 911 calls and help discern real shots vs. fireworks or backfiring vehicles (of course, the system can also detect gunshots and send out officers without a 911 call).

Having spent many years as a firefighter, he remembers driving the fire truck to the emergency was the most dangerous part of his job as he avoided collisions with other vehicles while traveling at a high rate of speed.

He said it’s the same for emergency responders today, and knowing real gunshots were fired through the gunshot locator system will reduce the number of life-threatening trips they have to make.

“They have it all hanging out there just getting to a shots fired call,” Hurley said.

ShotSpotter claims their system of microphones does not pick up or record human conversations, however the New York Times reports a loud argument leading to a shooting in Massachusetts was picked up and recorded, leading to concerns over privacy and police surveillance.

McGinn announces his complete 2013-14 budget on Sept. 24, at which time the City Council begins their review over the next 70 days, passing a final budget no later than Dec. 1.

It’s too early to know for certain whether the technology will make the final budget cut, but if it does there were several at the Sept. 18 West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting suggesting the Delridge neighborhood would be a good candidate.

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