Drone Shot (ECU)

An overhead drone shot of East Carolina University's campus. 

ShotSpotters are being installed around a three-mile radius downtown to detect when shots are fired and help with quicker and more accurate response times, according to Greenville Police Department Chief Mark Holtzman.

Holtzman said ShotSpotter is advanced technology that can detect gunfire.

“It's really designed to enhance police officers response and give accurate information. In other words, it will send an alert to the police officers and communications dispatchers in under one minute and it will send them a map of the location and pin point the area where the shooting is reported to take place,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman said the system costs $200,000 a year. He said the cost is split between the program's partners East Carolina University, Vidant Medical Center, Greenville Housing Authority and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

Holtzman said gunfire is historically underreported. Holtzman said citizens sometimes do not call to report gunfire because they don’t want to get involved or they don’t know where the exact location of the gunfire is coming from.

“What this system does is give officers accurate information in a timely matter that we can respond in time to hopefully catch the persons involved and render aid to those injured by gunfire and ultimately reduce the amount of gunfire taking place in a community,” Holtzman said.

Over the past five years, according to Holtzman, the department has been tracking how often gunfire occurs and where gunfire is taking place. Holtzman said during that five year span, Greenville has had an average of 500 reports of gunfire in the city each year.

“That’s not 500 injuries, that’s 500 reports of gunfire. Then use the idea that less than half of them get reported, that really you could double or even triple that number and will give an idea of how often gunfire takes place outdoors in our community,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman said Greenville has averaged 55 injuries by gunfire over the past five years, which range from non-life threatening injuries to fatalities.

Holtzman said in cities where ShotSpotter is deployed, there is a 35 percent reduction in total gunfire incidents. Holtzman said hopefully there will be a 35 percent reduction in injuries, which would save about 17 or 18 people every year from injury by gunfire.

When deciding where to install ShotSpotter, Holtzman said GPD used maps based off the data of where gunfire incidents were taking place. Holtzman said close to half of the gunfire incidents in Greenville were taking place in 10 percent of the city.

Holtzman said this data has narrowed ShotSpotters coverage area down to a 3.5 square mile radius, which is 10 percent of Greenville.

ShotSpotter is designed with sensors to go on top of the utility poles that can detect gunfire, Holtzman said. He said there are about 80 to 90 sensors across the coverage area.

Holtzman said ShotSpotter’s sensors pick up the sound of gunfire and triangulate its location and then send a map to police officers so they can know where the gunfire occured.

Holtzman said GPD will begin to get notifications from ShotSpotter on Friday, then the complete set up date will be in a week or two.

ECU Patrol Commander C/D Lt. Richard Taylor said ECU works closely with the city and Holtzman came to him about the ShotSpotter program.

Taylor said ECU PD and GPD work closely together and Holtzman asked ECU to be partners for ShotSpotters. Taylor said ECU PD patrols areas around campus, but also by jurisdiction.

According to Taylor, in the event gunfire was detected by a ShotSpotter, an officer would be sent out to verify if there was an accident or if an error had been made. Taylor said if an accident had occurred an ECU Alert would be sent to students.

“The good thing about ShotSpotter is it enables us to get that information much quicker because when someone calls it in, they have to call 911 and they talk to the dispatcher for about a minute then they forward it over to us and then the dispatchers talk to them,” Taylor said. “So, ShotSpotter cuts those couple of minutes out and makes for a quicker response to see if things happen or not.”

ShotSpotter enables officers to respond more quickly since they don’t have to rely on the public to call in gunfire, Taylor said.

“So, ShotSpotters enables us to take action and go to that area even if we’re not called by public and that makes us more responsive and increases our chance of pinpointing someone doing something such as firing a weapon,” Taylor said.

Mayor P.J. Connelly said the ShotSpotter program is currently in a trial period right now. Connelly said it needs to be beneficial for the community and show results before the program is invested in long term.

Connelly said the city is installing LED lights throughout the city to help citizens give a description of a suspect. Connelly added the city has also installed $250,000 worth of cameras and LED lights to ensure there are always eyes on hotspot areas 24 hours a day.

Greenville has had an increase in solved crimes, according to Connelly. In 2018, Connelly said there were five homicides in Greenville and all suspects were apprehended, so there are currently no unsolved homicides in the city.

Connelly said crime is down 20 percent and with the security measures Greenville is taking, they’re hoping to double that number.

Some ECU students think ShotSpotter is a great addition to campus safety. Nicholas Weaver, sophomore computer science major, said the ShotSpotter program contributes to campus safety because it allows officers to respond faster.

“I’ve never had a problem with it but if it helps the police respond faster, it’s great,” Weaver said.

Charles Kerekanich, freshman business major, said he does not currently have any campus safety concerns, but the ShotSpotter system could protect the campus from any future threats.

“I think it makes the campus safer in the sense that potential shooters may think twice about coming to ECU,” Kerekanich said.

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