City Council

A recently developed system to detect shots fired was approved by the Greenville City Council last night for the Greenville Police Department to aid in providing an advantage in gun fire response time.

ShotSpotter has become a leader in development and deployment of wide area acoustic gunshot surveillance systems, according to notes provided to council from ShotSpotter. It is a program tool which can be used to reduce gun violence, leading to the overall reduction of violent crimes in Greenville, Phil Dailly, ShotSpotter director of the southeast region said.

Mark Holtzman, chief of the Greenville Police Department, said he believes the program will do a lot to enhance the the public safety of our community and neighborhoods which have been impacted for years with gunfire incidents.

“You hear a gunshot and think somebody else is going to call it in, but nobody usually does,” said Holtzman.

Holtzman said the problem is GPD receives over 500 shots fired calls per year and there are 55 total gunshot injuries, per year, in the city of Greenville alone. He said from 2012 to 2017, over 3,200 shots fired calls were reported to GPD.

Holtzman said the community underestimates the amount of calls GPD gets on a regular basis regarding gunshot fire and how it negatively impacts the relationship between the community and law enforcement.

“This is just a fraction of what really takes place, estimates are well below half of what actually gets called in,” Holtzman said.

Dailly said ShotSpotter deploys about 20 to 25 sensors per square mile, away from ambient noise and sits dormant until the device hears an explosive-type sound. He said when someone fires a gun, it propagates sound out and hits the sensors, the system goes from passive to active mode, determining the exact location where the gunshot occurred.

Dailly said this ShotSpotter system has the ability to filter out anything that isn’t gunfire, such as a car backfiring.

According to Dailly, within 30 to 60 seconds after the trigger time, all law enforcement in the city will receive a notification from ShotSpotter indicating the location the event occured, the number of shots fired, how many shooters were involved and whether or not a full automatic weapon or a high capacity weapon was used.

Officers have access to ShotSpotter notifications at all times on any device, whether it be inside of their police cars, on a tablet or smartphone, said Dailly. He said the ShotSpotter software shows a map of the area with a dot where the gunshot took place.

ShotSpotter serves over 90 cities including Chicago, Illinois and Wilmington, NC, according to Dailly.

Holtzman said ShotSpotter has been a two year project and will be a three year service agreement with Greenville. He said the coverage area is 3.6 square miles, but can be expanded in the future depending on the progress of the system in years to come.

The coverage area for the ShotSpotter systems border downtown, the East Carolina University area and West Greenville, running south behind J.H. Rose High School, Holtzman said. He added these were the worst areas for crime and the most reported areas with gun violence.

“When you start to see a pattern like that, that stays consistent year after year, it’s more than just a response area, we’re looking for another solution to help us drive that down,” said Holtzman.

Holtzman said getting a shots fired call is frustrating for the community and the police because both do not know where it happened.

“We have to ride around and look, and if we don’t see anybody out, then we are ineffective. We lose a little trust,” said Holtzman.

Holtzman said the program will become effective in January 2019. Holtzman added the ShotSpotter system is effective, but costly. He said the cost of the program initially will be $225,000.

He said the project was a partnership to protect the Greenville community and reduce gunfire. East Carolina University, Vidant Medical Center, the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office and the Greenville Housing Authority all committed funding toward the system.

District 4 Councilmember Rick Smiley said the inclusion of being able to identify gunfire is a tremendous added value to the community. District 5 Councilmember Will Litchfield said he agreed with Smiley and said this was a great opportunity for Greenville to partner with the county and schools moving forward.

Smiley said he thinks the council would be “putting our heads in the sand” if they didn’t acknowledge events of the last few years involving school shootings.

“This is the most fascinating thing I’ve heard of. I think it’s a new step towards something better in Greenville,” Smiley said.

One of the key advantages of having ShotSpotter coverage in Greenville schools is in an active shooter situation, GPD would then have an early warning system to take immediate measures to litigate any risks to students, said Dailly.

A study by the national gunfire index report shows cities that are deploying this strategy are seeing an average 35 percent decrease in gunfire.

Holtzman said GPD’s goals are to decrease shots fired calls, decrease injuries and deaths from gunshots and all gun related crimes, which is consistent with what other cities are seeing which have already implemented similar strategies. He added GPD hopes to build community trust and cooperation while improving accuracy in reporting calls.

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