Implementing GunshotDetection TechnologyRecommendations for Law Enforcementand Municipal PartnersNANCY G. LA VIGNEPAIGE S. THOMPSONDANIEL S. LAWRENCEMARGARET GOFFOCTOBER 2019
In an effort to address the persistent and complex issue of violence in their communities, manylaw enforcement agencies have begun using technologies that hasten their responses to eventsinvolving gun violence and aid their investigations of such incidents. One such tool is gunshotdetection technology (GDT), a system that uses a network of outdoor acoustic sensors toautomatically detect gunfire and promptly alert law enforcement officers. With funding from theNational Institute of Justice, the Urban Institute conducted a three-city evaluation of GDT todocument how agencies implement and use the technology and assess its impacts on shootingnotifications, response times, violent crime rates, and police-community relations. The citiesthat participated in this study are Denver, Colorado; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Richmond,California. Though several vendors produce and sell GDT, all three cities use ShotSpotter, Inc.’sGDT product.
IntroductionThe Urban Institute conducted an evaluationwith the Denver, Colorado; Milwaukee,Wisconsin; and Richmond, California policedepartments to document how agenciesimplement and use gunshot detectiontechnology (GDT) and assess its impacts onshooting notifications, response times, violentcrime rates, and police-community relations.Throughout the evaluation, the Urbanresearch team interviewed 46 lawenforcement practitioners and 49 communitymembers, and coded 174 firearm-related casefiles to examine how each city implementedGDT (Lawrence et al. 2019). The researchteam also analyzed GDT alerts, previouslyreported violent crime data, and calls-forservice data to assess GDT’s impact ondepartment notifications of shootings andofficer response times to those notifications,firearm and violent crimes, and shootingand violent crime–related calls for service.Findings indicated that on average, GDTgenerates a more comprehensive measureof shots fired than calls-for-service data, andin most cases GDT results in faster responsetimes. Findings about GDT’s impact on crimewere mixed both within and across sites,but the technology yielded cost-beneficialimpacts in some locations and contexts.Finally, our evaluation documented a widerange of implementation strategies, many ofwhich provide insights on how agencies canimplement GDT in a manner most likely toyield its intended impact.3The purpose of this guide is to outline thelessons learned from this evaluation to helplaw enforcement and their municipal partnersmake informed decisions about investing inGDT, and to offer guidance for maximizingits impact. We begin by defining GDT,focusing on ShotSpotter’s specific technology.We then describe the various ways lawenforcement use the technology and the dataderived from it, followed by a list of seven keytakeaways on best practices in training, policydevelopment, deployment, alert response,use in investigations, and communicationwith community members. We hope thisguide is a useful resource for informing lawenforcement and government officials indecisions to invest in, continue, or expandGDT use to reduce rates of violent crime.What Is GunshotDetection Technology?Gunshot detection technology is designed toautomatically detect, verify, and rapidly notifypolice dispatchers and officers of the specifictimes and locations of firearm discharges.This is accomplished through a network ofacoustic sensors mounted on high structuressuch as telephone poles, streetlights, andthe roofs of public, commercial, and privatebuildings (with agreement from buildingowners). As outlined in figure 1, when aloud acoustic anomaly occurs within an areacovered by GDT sensors (Step 1), the sensorstriangulate the data to pinpoint the source ofthe sound (Steps 2 and 3).IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
The GDT collects information including thedate and time the sound was recognized,audio clips that capture the duration ofthe shooting, the number of shots fired,and the geographic location (latitudinaland longitudinal metrics within 25 meters).Depending on the specific GDT product,this information is transferred either to thevendor or directly to the law enforcementagency, where the alert is reviewed andvalidated as a gunshot or rejected as a falsepositive (not gunfire) (Step 4). For example,ShotSpotter’s GDT system has a two-phasedreview process where the sound and acousticsignature are initially analyzed by a AI-basedmachine classifier and if it is determinedto be a probable gunshot it is sent to thecompany’s Incident Review Center, wheretrained acoustic analysts then review thealert to verify it was gunfire and not someother noise, such as fireworks, a jackhammer,or a car backfire. Technicians in the IncidentReview Center can also provide additionalcontext about the alert, such as whethermore than one type of firearm was fired or if4the discharge came from a moving vehicle.Unlike ShotSpotter, if the law enforcementagency owns and maintains the GDT, theinformation is typically sent directly to theagency’s communication division to bedispatched to patrol.Once a ShopSpotter technician verifiesan alert as gunfire, a “published” alert iscreated, whereupon dispatchers and officerscan access the alert via the department’sComputer-Aided Dispatch system, from theirpatrol car terminal computer using ComputerAided Dispatch or the vendor’s software, orthrough the vendor’s smartphone app. Afteran acoustic anomaly is detected, it takesapproximately 60 seconds or less for it tobe published as a gunshot (Aguilar 2015;ShotSpotter 2018). Once the alert is madeavailable to patrol officers or assigned tothem by a dispatcher, officers are typicallyrequired to respond to the shooting followingdepartmental standard operating procedures(Step 5).IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
FIGURE 1Gunshot Detection Technology Data FlowDistance to sound: shot location could beanywhere on the circumference of this circle.Gunfire produces sound wavesthat expand in every direction.Readings from multiple sensors areused to triangulate the shot.Acoustic sensors throughout the city listen tothe distinctive wave forms that firearms produce.When detected, individual sesnors calculate thedistance to the sound.Audio and metadata files are transferredeither to vendor or the law enforcementagency for review and confirmation.An alert is published to the law enforcement agency’scomputer-aided dispatch and to the vendor’s software.Patrol officers respond to the scene.Source: Urban Institute.5IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
Who Uses GDTand How?Understanding the use and potential value ofGDT requires an assessment of the technologyfrom the perspectives of the various criminaljustice practitioners who use it (or the datait generates). These include law enforcementexecutives and command staff, crimeanalysts, dispatchers, patrol officers and theirsupervisors, investigators, and prosecutors.Law enforcement executives and commandstaff have a lead role in GDT acquisition anduse: in addition to making decisions aboutwhether to invest in the technology and aboutthe size and location of coverage areas, theyalso lead policy development and trainingdecisions on GDT use. They can also identifyand capitalize on opportunities to integrateGDT data with other data and systems thatcan enhance its use. Denver, for example, hasaccess to the Crime Gun Intelligence Center,a multi-agency task force led by the FederalBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms andExplosives. It has also leveraged resourcesfrom a Project Safe Neighborhoods grant tosupport analysis and integration of GDT alertdata. Milwaukee’s GDT program is situatedin its Intelligence Fusion Center, which has arobust team of crime analysts and a full-timesupervisor who manages the GDT program.In addition, a law enforcement agency’sleadership can set the tone regarding thetechnology’s value and accuracy, as well ashow they expect officers and civilian staffto use it. This includes dedicating sufficient6resources to training, giving staff (particularlycrime analysts) time to analyze GDT-generateddata, and holding officers accountable todepartmental policies.Crime analysts have an early and ongoingrole in GDT adoption and use. At the time ofthe initial GDT investment decision, they canproduce maps of known areas of gun violencethat depict patterns of reported gun-relatedcrimes, homicides by firearm, and calls forservice reporting shots fired. This informationis useful for determining where to place GDTsensors to ensure the areas where the majorityof gunfire incidents are likely to occur arecovered. Because the cost of GDT dependson the number of sensors and the size of thecoverage area, this is a critical first step thatincreases the likelihood that the investment iscost-effective.Once GDT has been deployed, crime analystsanalyze GDT data both independently andwith other data. They analyze GDT datafor trends and concentrations in firearmdischarges (e.g., by time of day or day of theweek) and map the data by location (e.g.,city blocks, patrol areas, or neighborhoods).These analyses inform tactical decisionsabout how and where to deploy patrols andother resources. Moreover, by examiningspatial patterns in combination with otherintelligence, analysts can track feuds betweenlocal groups, crews, and gangs, and informefforts to intervene and deescalate violence.This information can also support othercrime-reduction strategies, such as Richmond,California’s Operation Peacemaker program,IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
which recruits community members toconduct street outreach and address conflictsbefore they escalate.Dispatchers are typically the first to benotified of a GDT alert. As such, they areresponsible for notifying patrol officers ofshots fired; in cases where patrol officers lackaccess to GDT technology, dispatchers canalso provide context on how many shots werefired and any other calls for service that maybe related to the incident. This informationcan help officers know whether they areapproaching an active crime scene andanticipate the need for backup.Year’s Eve), officers in the Milwaukee,Wisconsin and Richmond, California policedepartments visited homes where alerts weredetected in previous years to inform residentsthey should not be discharging firearmsand alerting them to the dangers and legalramifications of doing so.Investigators may benefit most fromGDT for two reasons: (1) the technologyproduces precise information about thetiming and location of shots resulting ininjuries or homicides, and (2) it can helppatrol officers locate shell cases andcollect other investigative intelligencefrom possible witnesses. Investigators canPatrol officers have a critical role in makingalso integrate GDT-generated data withGDT work. Officers reporting to the scene of aballistics analyses, identifying whether shellGDT alert should exit their patrol cars, identifycasings are connected with guns used insigns of injury or homicide (and subsequentlyother documented crimes. For example, theexpedite medical care for those in need),police departments in Denver, Colorado andsearch for shell casings, interview bystandersMilwaukee, Wisconsin have in-house Nationaland potential witnesses, and canvas theIntegrated Ballistic Information Networkneighborhood for additional intelligence or(NIBIN) programs that enable them to analyzeevidence. Because they are key to the GDTbullet casings within 24 to 72 hours ofprocess, it is essential that officers be trainedgunfire incidents and link cases together.in GDT policies and protocols, have confidenceBoth departments also require that allin the technology, and are monitored byrecovered casings be analyzed by a NIBINsupervisors to ensure they are following leadsspecialist. In contrast, Richmond, Californiagenerated from GDT alerts. This will ensuredoes not have an in-house NIBIN programinvestigators have access to thoroughlyand relies on the Contra Costa Countycollected and accurate information.Forensics Services Division to analyzePatrol officers have also used GDT technology recovered casings, and investigators decidewhether bullets are sent for analysis.proactively to engage with communitymembers. For example, in the days precedingFinally, prosecutors generally consider GDTholidays with large amounts of celebratoryuseful; though the data alone does notgunfire (e.g., the Fourth of July and Newmake or break a case, it can be helpful in7IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
demonstrating that the timing and location of 1. Install sensors in places with highthe GDT alert coincides with the defendant’sconcentrations of gun violence. Placinglocation. Gunshot detection data can alsoacoustic sensors in the right places ishelp prosecutors demonstrate that shotsparamount to maximizing a GDT system’swere fired from a moving vehicle as wellbenefits while conserving resources. Byas the timing and location of shots firedanalyzing data on calls for service andfrom multiple weapons, all of which can bereported crimes and complementing theminstrumental in pinpointing who initiated awith agency intelligence and input fromshooting. Gunshot detection technology hasShotSpotter staff, all three evaluationalso been valuable for refuting claims of selfagencies were able to deploy GDT indefense and proving intent. One prosecutorthe areas most heavily impacted bywe interviewed used a four-second audiogun violence. Without understandingclip in court to demonstrate that a defendantpreexisting spatial concentrations of gunhad fired the first shot, disproving a claim ofviolence, agencies may overinvest in GDTself-defense.or deploy it in places it is less likely to havean impact.Although each of the above actors plays aspecific role in GDT use, it is important thatAlthough installing sensors where gunthey work in partnership rather than in siloes.violence is already happening may soundTraining on GDT should therefore includeintuitive, it is more complicated thanrepresentatives across all GDT roles. This candepartments might assume. To workhelp trainees understand the technology’s fullproperly, GDT sensors need clear acousticpotential and underscore the importance ofpathways unobstructed by tall buildingscoordination and collaboration across rolesand must be near a power source, meaningand responsibilities.the most ideal locations may not befeasible. In some cases, the most desirableand feasible locations also require consentand cooperation from private businesses orAlthough the structure of specific GDThomeowners. Any law enforcement agencyprograms can vary based on departments’implementing or expanding GDT coverageresources, implementation strategies, andshould plan for these challenges and begun-violence programs, we gleaned severalprepared with necessary consent forms,practices that any agency seeking to maximizereviewed by the agency’s general counsel.GDT’s benefits can apply. These practices,extracted from interviews with criminal justice 2. Communicate with community membersearly and often. Although GDT can providestakeholders and community focus groups, arelaw enforcement agencies accurate datathe basis for the recommendations that follow.Recommendations8IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
about the location and nature of gunfireincidents, the technology cannot replaceinformation obtained directly fromcommunity members. When installingGDT systems, law enforcement shouldcommunicate with community membersabout what GDT is, what it is not, whereit is deployed, and how it is being used. Infocus groups with residents living in GDTcoverage areas, it became evident thatsome people thought that departmentscould use GDT to constantly listen toand record the street activity in theirneighborhoods. Clearly explaining how thetechnology works can dispel communitymembers’ misunderstandings and assuageconcerns about privacy and surveillance.In keeping with principles of communitypolicing, it is also paramount that lawenforcement explain that GDT is not asubstitute for calls for service and that itis critical that residents continue reportinggunfire incidents they hear or observe. TheUrban research team learned that someresidents who were aware their city usedGDT had stopped reporting shootingsbecause they assumed the technologywas automatically notifying their policedepartment.3. Develop clear policies and proceduresbefore implementation. Gunshot detectiontechnology’s effectiveness rests on officers’response to alerts and their use of GDTgenerated data and related intelligence.Before implementing GDT, agencies should9develop clear policies and procedures forofficers responding to alerts and arrivingat alert locations. For example, though allthree evaluation departments treated GDTalerts as Priority 1 dispatch, policies forcanvassing neighborhoods, searching forand collecting shell casings, and locatingwitnesses and suspects varied considerablyamong agencies. The sooner agenciescommunicate policies and expectations ofofficers, the easier it is for supervisors tohold officers accountable for making themost of the technology.4. Make training an ongoing priority.Departments should make officers awareof established GDT alert policies andprocedures both in the police academy andthrough ongoing in-service trainings. Thesetrainings should also emphasize GDT’spurpose, accuracy, and limitations. In oneevaluation site, the technology failed toissue an alert following a well-knownshooting incident. Though such misseddetection is uncommon, the fact that theGDT erred may have made some officersfeel that responding to alerts is pointless.Training should include credible, vendorspecific research on GDT’s accuracy todecrease doubts and increase compliancewith departmental policies and procedures.Several agencies that participated inthis study consulted with agencies thathave several years of experience usingGDT. Leveraging the knowledge of lawenforcement practitioners who haveIMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
worked with the technology can be avaluable opportunity to complementdepartmental training with peers’experiences.5. Develop accountability mechanisms.Creating clearly stated policies andprocedures and communicating themduring ongoing trainings are criticalfoundations for using GDT, and developingand implementing accountability measurescan help supervisors ensure compliancewith these policies. One agency requiressupervisors to conduct field checks afterofficers respond to an alert and report noevidence of or related to a shooting. Thesupervisor is required to return to the alertlocation within 24 hours to look for shellcasings and conduct an additional canvassto unearth any additional intelligence andconfirm the officer investigated the GDTalert thoroughly.6. Assess departmental capacity for dataintegration and management beforeimplementing GDT. The data GDT generatescan provide useful metrics of gun violenceto incorporate into crime analysis,problem-solving, and tactical deploymentdecisions. To effectively use GDT data forthese purposes, it is crucial that agencies10integrate alert data with existing datasystems (e.g., records management systemsand Computer-Aided Dispatch). Whenpossible, agencies should assess theirsystems’ capacity for incorporating thedata before implementing GDT so they canbe ready to receive and process GDT dataas soon as the system goes live.7. Leverage complementary technologies.When agencies paired GDT data with datafrom other policing technologies, suchas NIBIN or eTrace—a system that allowsagencies to submit data to the Bureau ofAlcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’National Tracing Center—they experiencedsubstantial benefits in GDT’s investigativeutility and impact. In particular, agencieswith in-house NIBIN programs that allowedthem to run rapid results on bullet casingsenabled investigators to quickly link firearmcases within and across jurisdictions. Anideal shooting-investigation programwould use GDT to get officers to thescene, NIBIN to analyze shell casings andconnect weapons to other criminal events,and eTrace to investigate the owner(s) ofthe weapon, along with other traditionalinvestigative practices such as nextmorning canvasses, canine searches forshell casings, and follow-up interviews.IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
ConclusionGunshot detection technology is a tool foraddressing firearm violence that is mosteffective when law enforcement agenciesthoroughly incorporate it into day-to-dayprocedures and operations. Although GDT’saccuracy has been thoroughly documented,its impacts on crime depend squarely on itsimplementation. Its technological capabilitiescan make a “plug and play” approach tempting,but deploying it without attending to issues ofpolicy development, training, and communityengagement is unlikely to yield its intendedimpact. Gunshot detection technology requiresintentionality in implementation and daily11use to be valuable to the cities and agenciesthat use it. It is therefore crucial for agenciesto assess their capacity for covering thehidden costs of implementing GDT—training,monitoring, analysis, and communication—before investing in it, and that they attend tothose details before deploying it. Although GDTcan be a powerful tool, it is also important torecognize that no one technology or programcan fully address the underlying factors drivinggun violence in the US. A combination of toolsand responses is needed, along with authenticpartnerships with the communities most likelyto experience violent crime.IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
ReferencesAguilar, J. (2015). Gunshot detection systems in civilian law enforcement. Journal of the Audio Engineering Society,63(4), 280–291. doi:10.17743/jaes.2015.00020Lawrence, D. S., La Vigne, N. G., Goff, M., & Thompson, P. S. (2019). Lessons learned implementing gunshotdetection technology: Results of a process evaluation in three major cities. Justice Evaluation Journal, 1(2),109-129. Retrieve hotSpotter. (2018). ShotSpotter FAQ. Newark, CA: ShotSpotter, Inc. Retrieved /2018/08/FAQ Aug 2018.pdf.About the AuthorsNANCY G. LA VIGNE is vice president for justice policy at the Urban Institute. She managesa staff of more than 50 scholars and conducts her own research on policing, criminal justicetechnologies, and reentry from incarceration.PAIGE S. THOMPSON is a research analyst in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute,where she works on projects related to policing and crime prevention. Her research interestsinclude human trafficking, juvenile justice issues, community-based crime reduction initiatives,and the intersection of mental health and the justice system.DANIEL S. LAWRENCE is a senior research associate in the Urban Institute’s Justice PolicyCenter. His research focuses on police legitimacy and procedural justice, police technology,police screening and hiring practices, and community policing. He holds a BS in criminal justicefrom Northeastern University and an MA and PhD in criminology, law, and justice from theUniversity of Illinois at Chicago.MARGARET GOFF is a former research analyst at the Urban Institute where her portfoliofocused on the consequences of mass incarceration on incarcerated parents and their children,and young people.12IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
AcknowledgmentsThis project was supported by Award No. 2015-R2-CX-K147, awarded by the National Instituteof Justice, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. The opinions, findings,conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those ofthe authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice. We would like tothank staff from the Denver, Colorado, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Richmond, California PoliceDepartments who played a significant role in speaking with us about their use of gunshotdetection technology. The research team thanks the Police Foundation, who assisted with thequalitative data collection on this project. We would like to thank colleagues Carla VasquezNoriega and Dean Obermark, who worked on this project as analysts.The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the UrbanInstitute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insightsand recommendations of Urban experts. Further information on the Urban Institute’s fundingprinciples is available at urban.org/fundingprinciples.13IMPLEMENTING GUNSHOT DETECTION TECHNOLOGY
ABOUT THE URBAN INSTITUTEThe nonprofit Urban Institute is a leading research organization dedicated to developing evidence-basedinsights that improve people’s lives and strengthen communities. For 50 years, Urban has been the trustedsource for rigorous analysis of complex social and economic issues; strategic advice to policymakers,philanthropists, and practitioners; and new, promising ideas that expand opportunities for all. Our workinspires effective decisions that advance fairness and enhance the well-being of people and places.Copyright September 2019. Urban Institute. Permission is granted for reproduction of this file, withattribution to the Urban Institute.500 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024www.urban.orgCover photo from TWStock/Shutterstock.
Detection Technology? Gunshot detection technology is designed to automatically detect, verify, and rapidly notify police dispatchers and officers of the specific times and locations of firearm discharges. This is accomplished through a network of acoustic sensors mounted on high structures such as telephone poles, streetlights, and
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