The city of Baltimore, struggling with almost 100 shooting deaths so far this year, finally made the leap and installed ShotSpotter, a series of audio sensors that can detect gunshots, in a 5-square mile section of West Baltimore. The early result: The system went live at 5 p.m. June 1. Shots were fired shortly after 6 p.m. and soon thereafter, police officers received an alert on their cell phones. That was one of four incidents the system detected on its first night in operation.
The device is touted as an option that is supposed to speed up police response to shootings and ultimately help law enforcement get guns out of the hands of criminals.
Although city officials are glad to have it installed—“We are confident that the implementation of this sophisticated intelligence gathering capability will enhance our efforts to get illegal guns and criminals off our streets,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said—ShotSpotter has gotten mixed reviews across the nation. While it seems to do an adequate job of notifying officers about gunshots, it has a lackluster record in terms of leading to arrests.
Baltimore had considered installing the system several times over the past decade, most recently in 2015, but the idea was discounted partly after a cost-benefit analysis. Today’s technology has apparently improved enough for the city to consider it a more worthwhile venture.
Sensors record the sound, time and location of sudden noises that can include such things as gunshots, car backfires and other comparable banging sounds. The recording is then filtered through computers and screened by human listeners. Something that is deemed to be a gunshot results in a widespread alert being sent to law enforcement. The whole process from detection to alert takes about 45 seconds.
But will it pay off, or are Baltimore taxpayers being taken for a ride? In the Center for Investigative Reporting analysis linked to above, San Francisco reported more than 3,000 alerts over 2.5 years. Only two of those resulted in arrests, and only one of the arrests was for a gun-related crime. A couple of other cities have failed to renew contracts with the company that runs the program.
Looks like Baltimore might join the list of Democrat-run cities that are so anti-gun that they are throwing good money after an unproven idea, all because city leaders want more reason to cry for gun control so they can keep law-abiding citizens from doing a better job of protecting themselves.