Washington, D.C., is the latest city to test ShotSpotter, a network of noise sensors that identifies and pinpoints gunfire, the Washington Post reports. In the past few weeks, the technology has guided police to three homicides; in one case, officers got there rapidly enough to make an arrest. ShotSpotter complements 48 surveillance cameras in many city neighborhoods. Unlike the cameras, which are checked after the fact, ShotSpotter gets word to police as soon as bullets start flying — in many cases before anyone has a chance to call 911. The sensors, roughly the size of coffee cans, have been hidden atop buildings.
The ShotSpotter technology can identify gunfire within two miles. It can pinpoint, within feet, where the shots were fired from. The system won’t prevent shootings and relies on police having the personnel and wherewithal to react quickly. Said Police Chief Charles Ramsey: “For an injured person, it can be the difference between living and dying.” The technology behind the ShotSpotter Gunshot Location System dates to the 1990s. Police departments in Chicago, Los Angeles, Charleston, S.C., and about a dozen other cities have it or are installing it. D.C. got the system thanks to the FBI, which is footing the bill. The FBI views Washington as a pilot project; if it is deemed a success, the FBI might provide systems to other areas. The sensors connect through wireless radio or telephone lines. They are so sensitive that they can distinguish between gunfire and sounds like firecrackers and car backfires.