JSO tests new ShotSpotter system

New technology detects gunfire as it happens in crime-ridden neighborhoods

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, News4Jax.com Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has begun testing its new ShotSpotter system, a technology that's supposed to detect gunfire as it happens in crime-ridden neighborhoods. 

Police monitor hidden microphones across a 5-mile area in Northwest Jacksonville. If gunfire is detected, officers get alerts on their computers and phones. 

The Sheriff's Office will not be releasing the exact location of the sensors, but confirmed officers test fired guns Wednesday night to make sure the system worked.

News4Jax on Thursday found one of the test locations, but had chosen not to give the exact area to protect the program.

"I've been here 30 something years. We are used to gunfire over here," said Reggie Sams, a Northwest Jacksonville resident.

Sams knows the sound all too well, saying gunshots are common in Northwest Jacksonville.

"I can't really speak for everybody around here. I know we don't call (911) because we, like I say, we are numb. We are used to it," he said.

But Wednesday night, it was a different scenario. 

"You'd hear 'boom boom boom.' And it would get quiet. Then you hear it again in, like, five minutes," Sams said.

Jacksonville police officers were testing out the ShotSpotter technology, firing weapons in a closed area to calibrate the system. 

READ: ShotSpotter FAQ

The idea behind ShotSpotter is to use sensors to detect a gunshot right when it happens, and then police zoom into the exact area where the shot was fired. It can help police find the shooter, someone who has been shot or, at least, shell casings and other valuable evidence.

In April, News4Jax visited the Denver Police Department and saw the system in action. 

"More often than not, they are within 5 to 10 feet of where the gunshots were actually occurring from," said Denver Police Department Lt. Aaron Sanchez. 

Detectives use that, along with a bullet-identification scanner, to look for clues.

Jacksonville’s Mayor, Sheriff and other city leaders said they hope it will help solve crimes and deter violence.

The cost is around $435,000 the first year and $325,000 annually after that.

Sams said he hopes ShotSpotter makes the streets safer.

"We've got kids around here," he said. "All you can do is pray and protect the ones that you love out here."

ShotSpotter has gotten some criticism across the country. Some agencies have discontinued using it, saying it hasn’t led to much success. News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith talked about the pros and cons.

"From my research, and some cities like San Francisco, two-thirds of the time, when police respond to ShotSpotter, it has turned out to be unfounded. No one there. No evidence of a crime," Smith said. "So, sometimes, it can waste police resources somewhat. But I think the good outweighs the bad. At least they are getting there to the scene to see if there are any victims there."

Sheriff Mike Williams said Thursday that the technology should be up and running in the next few days.

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