8News Investigates: Is new Richmond gunfire detection technology worth the money?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — From the moment shots ring out Richmond, police could be moving in but now with the help of a technology called ShotSpotter.

“Not only a time saver, but a life saver,” Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said about the technology.  He explains to 8News when gunfire erupts, 911 will get multiple calls from multiple locations.

He explains to 8News when gunfire erupts, 911 will get multiple calls from multiple locations.

“When an officer responds to that scene, all he/she is doing is canvassing unless someone flags them down,” Durham said.

It’s critical time lost.

ShotSpotter uses a network of microphones, sensors, and sonar to pinpoint on a map the exact location of the shots fired.

“Within 45 seconds, the officers in their vehicles on their mobile terminals will be able to see the location, they can hear the number of gunshots, it will tell you the exact location within 25 meters,” Durham said.

He has big expectations for the gun detection system in a City plagued by gun violence.

“Last year we responded to 3495 random gunshot calls, already this year 1,268,” he said.

Ninety percent of the homicides, this year and last, is the result of gun violence.

The ShotSpotter microphones will be rigged to roof tops here in Mosby Court, Gilpin Court and eventually Midlothian Village Apartments where police data shows most of the gunfire is coming from.

Richmond will be the first community in the Commonwealth with the gun detection system.

It’s active in 90 cities across the U.S. including Washington, DC where Chief Durham once worked. However, there are questions about the effectiveness of the $235,000 dollar technology.

A Forbes analysis of “ShotSpotter Alerts,” found police were unable to find evidence of gunshots 30 to 70 percent of the time.

8News asked Durham,”Is this really the best use of taxpayer money?”

Durham replied, “I can’t speak for the City of Richmond because we haven’t deployed it yet. I always tell folks I can’t speak on something or give you empirical data that we don’t have. My experience in Washington, it was an effective tool.”

“Anything that will get a police officer to the scene faster, in my opinion, is a good idea,” Richmond resident Chris Bowles said.

Regardless of the studies or costs, most people 8News spoke with living in and around Mosby Court were all for it. Some think it will deter crime.

Norman Hicks, a Richmond resident says, “I think at some point if they realize they can be detected, it will stop a lot of this.”

For those concerned about privacy, Chief Durham says the system can not and will not be used to record conversations, only sounds of a blast.

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