In its first 6 months, the Minneapolis Police Department's new ShotSpotter gunfire detection system had a significant effect on the level of crime in Minneapolis' Central neighborhood Weed and Seed site. It triggered dispatches to 69 suspected gunshot locations, with most dispatches made less than 1 minute after the shot was detected. These alerts led to three felony arrests, three misdemeanor arrests, two recovered guns, and a recovered stolen car.
"It is working better than we expected," said Sheryl Kabat, Executive Director of the site. According to Kabat, the neighborhood has seen eight arrests since ShotSpotter went live in December and only two shooting incidents. This is welcome relief for a neighborhood whose residents have suffered a disproportionate number of gun crimes for too long. In recent years the city as a whole has experienced a doubling of "shots fired" calls equating to 10.6 acts per 1,000 residents, and while alarming, this ratio pales in comparison to that for Central, which has experienced 24.7 acts per 1,000 residents. In fact, "shots fired" calls in Central represented approximately 18 percent of all "shots fired" calls in the 3rd Precinct, though the Central neighborhood accounts for less than 10 percent of the precinct population.
For Minneapolis, ShotSpotter is the culmination of a "gun law special emphasis," launched by the Central site in 2005 as a result of community and police concerns about steep increases in gunfire and gun-related crimes. The startling increase in violent firearm crimes committed in the community was most disturbing, with homicides doubling from 2003 to 2004 and then again from 2004 to 2005.
Faced with this increasing gun violence and with continued shortages of manpower and funds, in late 2005 Central Weed and Seed began to seek long-term, cost-effective methods for reducing gunfire crimes that would not depend solely on increased officer support. Creative thinking, coupled with substantial research, led to a 2006 request for funding to help the site install and operate ShotSpotter. The city of Minneapolis and the police department, with assistance from Weed and Seed funding awarded to both the Central and Phillips Weed and Seed sites, committed $350,000 to the system's installation and an additional $125,000 for the installation of interfacing surveillance cameras.
Increasing Deterrence, Boosting Morale
In addition to providing 911 dispatchers and police with better tools for responding to gunshots, the technology seems to be deterring would-be criminals from committing gun violence. "Police are responding so quickly to shots fired calls that I think criminals are getting a little spooked," said Kabat. In the first shooting incident after the system went live, the police were on the scene in 30 secondsso rapidly, in fact, that officers were able to chase after the shooters' car as they sped away, making the first arrest just a few blocks away. Since then, word has spread fast that if you fire a gun in those neighborhoods, Minneapolis police just might be there before you can get away.
Kabat noted that ShotSpotter has also boosted the community's morale. She described a recent community meeting where she spoke about ShotSpotter. During her talk, she noticed that the community leaders were growing increasingly excited. When she finished, one of the leaders stood up and said, "I just realized that I haven't heard a gunshot all summer." During these meetings, Kabat is quick to tell community groups that ShotSpotter does not replace their diligence and that residents' calls to 911 provide important supporting information. "But they can feel safe knowing that they will not be marked as the 'snitch,'" she said.
"I don't know if we ever could have accomplished what we have accomplished without the Weed and Seed initiative," said Kabat. "Through Weed and Seed and the technology that the strategy has enabled, citizens are realizing that the streets belong to them, and are excited to work with all their partners and stakeholders to make sure the bad guys know it too."
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