Using Technology in the Fight Against Random Gunfire

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 3, 2000 — When echoes of gunfire are heard in the night, who knows exactly where they come from? Thanks to the new gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter from Trilon Technology LLC, this important information can be distributed rapidly to local police — and also to the whole neighborhood. The new technology will work to ensure both officer and citizen safety through rapid detection and communication for dangerous events such as drive-by shootings. When the technology is put into action, residents can expect a squad car to pull up soon after an occurrence of gunfire.

Successfully used by such high-profile locations as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and Redwood City, California, ShotSpotter is proven to detect random gunfire within 25 feet of its origin. Moreover, the system has been credited for leading to a 99 percent reduction in illicit gunfire in one Northern California city.

Communicator high-speed notification system from Dialogic Communications Corporation (DCC) provides immediate information or instruction regarding gunfire to both law enforcement officials and area residents using a variety of communications devices, including phones, cell phones, fax machines and pagers. The system is based on the Microsoft Windows NT operating system and uses several other Microsoft technologies, including Visual Studio, BackOffice Server, Office 2000, SQL Server 7 and Exchange 5.5.

When gunfire is observed, local law enforcement can map its origin using ShotSpotter’s Mapping and Database interface, and dispatch police officers to the precise location of the gunfire. At the same time, Communicator simultaneously notifies area residents with safety instructions. The system also provides a touch-tone option for eyewitnesses to report information in the safety and confidentiality of their own homes.

The Trilon and DCC technology duo won the Computerworld Smithsonian Laureate Award, and Shotspotter this week becomes part of the permanent research collection on information technology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Nominated by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates, Trilon and DCC’s work will be part of the 2000 Information Technology Innovation Collection in the Government & Non-Profit Organizations category. The collection includes more than 440 of the year’s most innovative applications of technology from 38 states and 21 countries.

“The system shows what can be done to leverage our Microsoft platforms to protect the public, to protect the safety of the community,”
says Jeffrey Kratz, industry manager for knowledge management at Microsoft.
“DCC has adopted our Office and Server Application platforms, and has written the tools to integrate them into their day-to-day work.”

The primary benefit of using Microsoft technologies, Kratz says, is speed and scalability.
“We are enabling the knowledge worker to work more effectively with different systems any time, any place and on any device.”

“ShotSpotter and Communicator together represent a breakthrough for law enforcement,”
says Dave Krikac, DCC vice president of marketing and former LASD deputy.
“It enables police to go from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ in their fight against illegal gunfire and related violence.”
If police can gain access to crime information quickly, identify hot areas where gunfire is common and automatically alert the affected community to minimize fear, then they’re doubly prepared to combat illegal firearms use,” he says.

The system holds great promise for reducing gunfire in cities like Los Angeles, the nation’s leader in the frequency of random gunfire. Every New Year’s Eve, the city explodes in celebration, and some residents get carried away, firing bullets toward the sky as the clock strikes midnight. Last New Year’s Eve, the LASD detected more than 1,200
gunshots in a 1-square-mile section of the Willowbrook area alone, in just two hours. The LASD’s technology pilot, comprised of Communicator and ShotSpotter technologies, quickly pinpointed and alerted police to the illegal celebratory gunfire. In most instances, before residents even made the call to report these incidents to police.

“The 1,200 incidents detected by the new technology far exceeded the number reported by citizens,”
says Krikac.
“People are so used to gunfire going off that night that they don’t even report all the incidents.”
Since implementing the technology pilot, LASD has used the system to identify gunfire
“hot spots”
and allocate resources more effectively to those areas.

The system uses a network of detectors that “listen” for the sound of gunfire. In a Los Angeles County test, police outfitted an undisclosed one-square-mile area near the Century precinct station with six detectors at key locations in the neighborhood.
“They just sit there and listen for the acoustical footprint of a gunshot,”
says Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Fortier.
“We don’t tell anybody where the detectors are set up.”
When the detectors hear gunfire, they relay information back to the precinct station. The devices tell police where the gunfire occurred, and from what type of weapon.

“Within 10 to 15 seconds, depending on each shot, the dispatchers at LASD’s Century Station are alerted,”
says Salvador Sandoval of Trilon.
“The computer monitor displays a map of the area, and police officers know within a few feet where the person fired the round.”

Police receive maps of the scene while they are en route. If there’s been a drive-by shooting, police are able to use the maps and other data to determine the direction and speed of fleeing perpetrators. Since police are also able to identify the types of weapons that were dischargedthey can then plan the most rapid and effective response.

Century Station Deputy Tom Fortier says the LA test was a success. In March, after several weeks of fine-tuning the system, it went into operation in Willowbrook. Some fine-tuning was necessary to make sure the detectors identified only gunfire while disregarding all other noises.
“In the first week, we had three activations. All were good hits. We responded to each of them, but made no arrests. Right now, it’s more of a deterrent.”

“Now, if you shoot a gunshot off your back porch, our message is we’re going to come knocking,”
says Fortier.
“If you shoot a firearm in LA County, we’re going to know about it.”
Recently, the LASD launched a door-knocking campaign that sent detectives to the doors of every resident to make them aware of the new technology and its ability to identify and locate illegal gunfire.

“With the Communicator and ShotSpotter duo, communities can become safer places to live,”
Krikac says.
“A relationship of trust can be established between residents and law enforcement where both are helping working together to fight crime.”

ShotSpotter’s Mapping & Database interface was developed by Bradshaw Consulting Services (BCS) of Aiken, S.C., utilizing Microsoft’s Visual Studio, Access databases and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO), a Microsoft Data Access Component. ADO’s primary benefits are high speed, ease of use, low memory overhead and a small disk footprint. The system, using the Microsoft Windows NT Server platform, generates the names, addresses and phone numbers of the homes and businesses close to the gunshot.

Communicator then uses the database to quickly notify nearby residents. Finally, the system provides the police with street-level maps and aerial photographs displaying the gunfire’s location, using two other technologies: MapObjects 2 from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) and LizardTech’s MrSID.

Krikac says that the system relies on Microsoft technology because of the ease with which they can be integrated.
“Microsoft’s product suite allowed us to come out with very fast interfaces, and accelerated our time to market,”
he says.
“It all has to do with speed. They are all integral. With competitive forces you have got to get products out quickly.”

Firing guns into the air in celebration of holidays is dangerous and deadly, especially in highly populated areas such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Los Angeles, according to a DCC White Paper,
“Using Technology to Reduce Community Gunfire: How Law Enforcement is Going High Tech to Fight Illegal Gunfire in America.”
The white paper reports that victims of falling bullets in such areas are not uncommon, and many of them are innocent children. In Los Angeles, 118 people were treated at King/Drew Medical Center alone for such injuries from 1985 to 1992.

In fact, the mortality rate caused by random, celebratory shootings is much higher than the rate normally associated with
gunshot wounds. According to a 1995 study by King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, this is because 77 percent of these victims are hit in the head by the bullet.
“Three-fourths of the survivors hit by the so-called ‘space bullets’ suffer severe long-term disabilities, including paraplegia, quadriplegia, seizures and chronic pain,”
the Medical Center reported.

“What goes up must come down, and bullets plummet into crowds, onto porches, in yards and in the street with lethal force, often achieving speeds of 300 to 500 feet per second — 100 feet per second is all that is necessary to penetrate human skin, and 200 feet per second will shatter bone, as shown by National Rifle Association (NRA) studies,”
DCC’s White Paper reports.

“Together, the technologies increase the likelihood that area residents will remain protected and pass on crime-solving tips to police. Officers have access to the most current information available so response to gunfire is much quicker as well as the speed and accuracy with which they pursue suspects and gather evidence,” says Krikac. “In short, the system helps to save lives and virtually stops criminals with a smoking gun still in their hands.”

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