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Indianapolis considers a gunshot detection system to help curb crime

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Posted at 8:16 PM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 01:01:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has been weighing a gunshot detection system for a couple years. Now, it's receiving more attention and being examined at the City-County Council level to see if would help curb crime in the Circle City.

WRTV Investigates traveled to Cincinnati, which has used the ShotSpotter system for four years now to see how it works, if it works and if this is something that could benefit the City of Indianapolis.

In Cincinnati, censors that can detect and triangulate gunfire are placed all around.

"ShotSpotter hears anything over 120 decibels, so anything that goes bang, boom or pop," explained Lt. Jennifer Mitsch.

Someone in the ShotSpotter dispatch center then listens to it, confirms it, and alerts the police department.

"And that happens within 28 to 30 seconds," Mitsch said. "We know exactly where to go."

Mitsch said that nationally, the average time between someone calling 911 to dispatch is about 2.5 minutes.

"When we get the alert within 30 seconds, you can imagine we would get there a lot faster," she said.

But she added that it's not just about improving response times or getting to victims quicker, or even collecting evidence from scenes. Although, those are all benefits to using the system.

"With this system, we are now responding to 80% more gunfire that we didn't even know about. Nationally, only about 27% of people even call 911 when they hear shots fired for a variety of different reasons," Mitsch said. "And with this system, we've been tracking. How do we do compared to the national average? And we're about the same. Our neighborhoods are between 11 and 16% of people who call 911."

"I think you have to look at the data right?" IMPD Deputy Chief Kendale Adams asked. "How many times are our communities and neighborhoods not calling the police for shots fired?"

Adams said we need to look at the varying evidence to see if it's working in other cities and to look at the data of our own to see if it's needed there.

"As Cincy has said, it's benefited them," Adams said. "Certainly Chicago said it's had some benefits. But, I've also seen studies that say it's lead to more false police runs, and it's led to over policing of a neighborhood."

"This is going to be adversely impacting the African-American community that would be at the top of my concern," Rev. David Greene, senior pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries and president of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis said."

Greene said the technology worries him. He's concerned about false runs or reports, as the ShotSpotter company places these sensors outdoors, on a building, telephone or light pole. They're placed in areas predetermined as "high crime" by police through data.

He said this technology won't do any good to help build trust between law enforcement and the community.

"In my opinion, if you're dealing with it on the back end, reactionary, it's about relationships," Greene said. "So, you've got to have those right relationships which means you need good people. That's what you need, not the tool. And then if it's in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods, that could be perceived wrong and you get less cooperation out of people when you need more cooperation."

IMPD is still in discussion with the City-County Council over the budget, and if they should invest in ShotSpotter or another gunshot detection system. At least one company has offered months of free trials for Indianapolis.

"We are not opposed to doing a pilot, but what happens after that pilot?" Adams wondered. "You've got to find money to sustain that So, we'd be going back to the Council or the city to say, hey, we need another $600 to $700,000 just to support this one location that we have."

Cincinnati start their pilot program in 2017. For theirs, they saw a 42% decrease in shootings. Because of that positive result, they have since expanded their ShotSpotter coverage; and now have a footprint in every district across that city.

The Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police has been pushing for IMPD to try out a pilot program here. They said it's not a cure-all solution, but it's a tool in the toolbox to curbing crime.

WRTV Investigates reached out to the mayor's office, which a spokesperson replied with the following statement:

“Earlier this month, Mayor Hogsett unveiled a proposed three-year violence reduction plan totaling more than $150 million, $9 million of which is set aside for modern policing technology. That investment includes money for license plate readers, cameras, and a gunshot detection pilot. Our office will continue to support IMPD as it assesses the most efficient use of those resources to achieve public safety, with input and engagement from Indianapolis residents.”

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