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NYPD to detect gunshots in real time

The new system allows the NYPD to increase the chances of catching the shooter, recovering the weapon, and stopping further crime.
Police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting at 202 West 58th Street in Manhattan on Dec. 10, 2012 in New York City.
Police investigate the scene of a fatal shooting at 202 West 58th Street in Manhattan on Dec. 10, 2012 in New York City.

Police officers in New York City now can pinpoint gunshots to within feet of where they were fired with the help of new technology introduced this week.

The New York Police Department and Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed the deployment of the new system, which aims to decrease officer response time to gunshot incidents and increase public safety. The NYPD will pilot the ShotSpotter system in five zones — about three square miles each — in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Commissioner William Bratton wrote in a public statement. Zones went live in the Bronx on Monday, and will be effective in Brooklyn next week.

"It's going to send a message out to our communities that, if you fire a weapon, the police are going to know instantly, so there's going to be a deterrent effect," de Blasio said during a press conference on Monday.

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The $1.5 million system uses 300 sensors to first triangulate the location of a gunshot to within 25 meters of where the bullet was fired. Within seconds, it sends a notification to an operator who reviews the audio file to determine if the sound actually was a gunshot or a different activity, such as fireworks or an engine backfiring. The system then forwards an alert to the NYPD with relevant information about the number of shots fired, a map of the location, and if the shooter was moving at the time of the incident.

The real-time technology allows the NYPD to dispatch units to the exact location of the shooting instead of general areas, thus saving time and increasing the chance of catching the suspect and recovering the weapon. Officers can receive alerts directly on their smartphones or tablet devices. The technology will pair with the $160 million smartphone and tablet initiative the NYPD unveiled in October that aims to improve mobile communications within the force.

In cities around the country, 75% of shots-fired calls are never dialed into 911, Bratton said. He hopes the program will reveal instances of underreporting in New York City.

Similar systems already are in use in Washington, D.C., five towns in New Jersey, and New York's Nassau County. The NYPD has been working with ShotSpotter since last April to bring the technological capabilities to the city. The new technology blends in with an existing surveillance system, and the police department will begin using it through a year-long pilot process.

Bratton said he expects more features will be added to the system, including a means to identify the type of weapon.

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Shooting incidents when a gunman kills or wounds multiple people are becoming more frequent in the United States, specifically in the workplace or at schools, the FBI confirmed in a report released last September. Town agencies around the country are trying out ways to increase safety in the wake of shootings in public places, including at schools and malls. A district in Massachusetts, for example, in November unveiled the country's first installation in a school of a shooter-detection system that can recognize and track a gunman roaming through the building. Sensors installed in classrooms, hallways, and entrances immediately detect the firing of a gunshot and allow officials to track a gunman's movements.

Two NYPD officers were fatally shot in Brooklyn last December as they sat in their squad car. The tragic incident quickly took on national urgency in the wake of largely peaceful protests around the country against police practices.