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NYPD spends $1.5 million on electronic ears to listen for gunshots in the Bronx

Cops in New York City have started testing a system that shows them almost instantly the location of where a gun was fired to within 25 meters (82 feet). Already used by cops in several other U.S. cities, the ‘ShotSpotter’ technology utilizes strategically placed audio sensors that relay gunshot location information to nearby cops, enabling a rapid response.

The system, which costs $1.5 million a year to set up and operate, is also smart enough to predict where subsequent shots may take place, allowing officers to approach a situation with the appropriate amount of caution and backup.

Related: When cities adopt smartphone chips, trash cans will talk, and street lamps will have ears

New York City police commissioner William J. Bratton said ShotSpotter will allow cops to respond to incidents “in a more timely manner, and provide us with the ability to help victims, solve crimes and apprehend dangerous suspects more quickly.”

The system was activated in the Bronx midnight Monday as part of a pilot program. It didn’t take long to demonstrate its value to law enforcement – the first shot was picked up by ShotSpotter within just an hour of going live.

Brooklyn will be added to the trial from next week, with the remaining boroughs following later if  the system proves effective.

The city first looked into using ShotSpotter back in 2009, but the detection software proved too unreliable, leading to countless false alarms. However, enhanced technology and the inclusion of trained verifiers who analyze audio before notifying the police department of actual shots have helped to improve the system’s accuracy significantly.

Related: NYPD to equip officers with body cameras

It’s hoped ShotSpotter will help New York cops to build an accurate picture of just how much gun activity there is in the city. Bratton said that data from other cities using the software, Boston and Washington DC among them, indicate that 75 percent of gunshots detected by ShotSpotter aren’t made known to cops via emergency calls.

Hardly surprisingly, the fact that ShotSpotter works using a network of highly sensitive microphones placed in public spaces has led several local officials to request assurances from the authorities about how exactly the collected data will be used. If the assurances are accepted, and the technology is shown to be a useful tool for the city’s cops, there’s a good chance we’ll  see ShotSpotter gain even wider use across the country in the coming years.

[Source: NYC gov, NY Times]