ShotSpotter Adopted By More Cities; How Accurate Is It?


Sixteen cities have installed ShotSpotter, a system of rooftop listening devices that triangulates the origin of gunshots and pinpoints, in seconds, the location on a map, says the Christian Science Monitor. This week, Boston starts a plan to spend $1.5 million on the system. ShotSpotter Inc., touts the system’s ability to gather forensics, including when shots were fired, how many, from what angle, and, in some drive-bys, the direction that the car was moving. The system is not dead-on accurate, meaning police must be circumspect about how they use the new trove of data. Washington, D.C., police say the system helped them capture a suspect fleeing from a gunshot homicide. The manufacturer says its system saved the life of a gunshot victim in 2004 in “an East Coast city.” Nobody called 911, but the sensors alerted police.

Lawyers say it is debatable how much suspicion should fall on those in the vicinity of a ShotSpotter report, given that the system is only specified to be accurate 80 percent of the time within 82 feet. Boston police commissioner Edward Davis says ShotSpotter records would probably not be enough to obtain a search warrant, but might meet that bar in combination with other information. Regardless of accuracy rates, the high-tech nature of ShotSpotter may dazzle juries. “It’s the gee-whiz effect: It seems so scientific, it must be true, right?” says Jack King of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He he would move to keep gunshot acoustic evidence out of court. “If a district attorney wanted it in, I would make him put on some $1,000-an-hour experts to convince the court that it’s scientifically reliable.”


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