INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Indianapolis will soon begin testing gunshot detection in a 5 square mile radius on the city’s east and near east sides. FOX59’s Crime Mapping project shows a total of 71 non-fatal shootings and 24 fatal shootings in the area in 2021 and IMPD data indicates that’s the most anywhere in the city.
At a basic level, gunshot detection systems use sensors to listen for gunshots, with a main goal of getting officers to a scene faster. It comes in addition to more technology: more police cameras and license plate readers.
“We’re accountable for solving cases,” IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey said. “These tools will help us solve cases. It will help us take guns off the street, which in turn gives us legitimacy in the community.”
Indy leaders will spend $1,012,445 for a one-year pilot thanks to money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The test is a competition between three companies: Flock, J and M Security and ShotSpotter.
“During the test of the at least three companies, there’s no cost to the city of Indianapolis whatsoever,” Bailey said. “But after that, once we select a vendor, then we’ll have to pay for it.”
The boundary of the area the technology will cover is from 21st Street to Emerson down to Washington and over to Oriental Street.
“I don’t think it’s been too much surveillance because there has been an uptick in the gunshots,” Chris Staab, President of the Near Eastside Community Organization (NESCO), said. “That’s more troubling than the fact that we’re over surveilled.”
Staab said IMPD’s been upfront about the goals of the gunshot detection technology.
“They’ve been very transparent,” Staab said. “They brought the community members in to explain to us what they’re looking at.”
According to the city’s Request for Information (ROI), the gunshot detection system ultimately selected will have the ability to accurately identify a gunshot greater than 90% of the time. It must also be able to recognize and identify specific types of gunshots from handguns, automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons or shotguns.
“I think a lot of times we get wrapped up in technology being the end all, that this is somehow going to stop things from happening,” Bailey said. “We can’t have that mindset. This is a tool. It’s a tool that we want to add to our toolbox in order to help us reduce violent crime and also hold those offenders accountable. But, it’s just one tool.”
Indy taxpayers and city-county councilors will ultimately make the decision to pay for gunshot detection technology long-term once the pilot program is complete. IMPD has not given a timeline for when a vendor will be selected.
Chicago’s Office of Inspector General Report
ShotSpotter is the chosen gunshot detection system for the City of Chicago. A 2021 review by the city’s Office of Inspector General finds the cost might outweigh the technology’s success.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said. “But, it does mean that the data we examined doesn’t demonstrate it.”
The OIG looked at data collected by the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications(OEMC) regarding all ShotSpotter alert notifications that occurred between January 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021.
Specifically, they evaluated all investigatory stops confirmed to be associated with CPD’s response to a ShotSpotter alert.
“That’s to say we were looking at what we could determine from CPD’s own data about when and how often and under what circumstances the use of the Shotspotter technology was providing law enforcement benefit and investigative support to CPD’s operations,” Witzburg said.
Witzburg said the OIG report did not provide recommendations, instead it aimed to provide taxpayers and government officials with “clear and accurate information regarding CPD’s use of ShotSpotter technology” to the extent it could with the data provided to the office by OEMC and the police department.
“At the most basic level, the question we posed in our report is, does CPD’s data suggest that the operational benefit of the Shotspotter technology outweighs its costs,” Witzburg explained. “Again, with the notion that there are two kinds of costs on the table here. One, literal costs. Chicago had a $33 million contract over three years. It was ultimately extended with Shotspotter. That’s a lot of public dollars. And two, back to less tangible costs, there has been a lot of community concern here in Chicago about the use of Shotspotter and other similar surveillance technologies. That’s the big question given both kinds of the costs, can we demonstrate enough operational benefit to weigh in favor of continued investment in the technology? Ultimately our conclusion, with respect to the Chicago Police Department, is the department’s data does not clearly demonstrate that sort of operational benefit.”
The Chicago report evaluated more than 50,000 gunshot detection alerts over the 17-month period. Overall, it found 9% of CPD responses to alerts found evidence of a gun-related crime. In only 2% of alerts, CPD made an investigatory stop directly connected to a ShotSpotter notification.
“Only in rare circumstances does the data reflect that some measure of investigative progress was made on the basis of a ShotSpotter alert,” Witzburg said.
Also included in the OIG report is the impact the presence of gunshot detection might have on CPD officers. The report looks at ten stops “partially predicated on the high volume of ShotSpotter alerts in the area.”
The OIG report showed only one instance in this sample led to an arrest.
“What we saw in some situations, not an enormous number, but in some situations in which members of the police department were referring to a sort of impression for being a lot of Shotspotter alerts in a given area as one component of that articulable suspicion providing a basis for the investigatory stop,” Witzburg said. “That gives rise to the suggestion that members of the police department are behaving differently, they’re policing people differently not because of a specific ShotSpotter alert but because of their sort of generalized impression of the prevalence of Shotspotter alerts in an area.”
We asked Witzburg if the process by which CPD collects data could have impacted the findings of this report.
“I think there is certainly a question about completeness and accuracy of the data and we confront those data quality issues in a lot of areas in police oversight and public safety policymaking,” Witzburg explained. “That is certainly almost inevitably one of the things at work here. That too should prompt a conversation about improving operations.”
South Bend Police Department views ShotSpotter technology as successful
SBPD’s Assistant Chief Dan Skibins says the technology alerts officers to shots fired calls which often go unreported. Since ShotSpotter was introduced to South Bend, Skibins said the calls have more than tripled.
“Now residents know that we are coming when there’s shots fired,” Skibins said. “They may not know exactly where the ShotSpotter sensors are but we saw an increase throughout the entire city because they believed in us that we’re going to show up now when shots are being fired.”
Skibins said the technology sends officers to a nearly exact location within minutes.
“It’s about 98% accurate that the shots were fired, and casings recovered in about a 15-foot radius of where a dot is on the map,” Skibins said.
Skibins adds, “We’re arriving on scene. There are still witnesses, maybe even a suspect in a crime.”
Skibins said this evidence collection is playing a role in combatting gangs in the area.
“We’re able to identify gang beefs by ballistics matching up from one area where one gang is and another area where we have intel that another gang is hanging out,” Skibins said. “We look at two, four and six weeks worth of data.”
Other cities’ reported outcomes using gunshot detection systems
Denver is under contract with ShotSpotter until the end of 2026. According to information sent by the city, Denver Police report an average of 85.5% of ShotSpotter alerts from 2018 to 2021 had no correlating 911 call.
According to data from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), Shotspotter-related arrests have increased each year from 2018-2021, and so have Shotspotter alert-related gun recoveries.
Our sister station in Denver, KDVR, arrests due to the sensors are up 296% since 2015 when Denver first invested in the equipment.
Our sister station in Little Rock, AR investigated the outcomes of using ShotSpotter in 2021. That news team looked at records from the Little Rock Police Department based on two years.
Of 2,026 suspected shootings, police made arrest at the scene 7 times and in 8 other situations, they named a suspect in the initial report. KARK said a study by the University of Arkansas in Little Rock (UALR) found similar results.
On May 20, the Buffalo City Council approved the budget for 2023, without funding for ShotSpotter. According to our sister station WIVB, Mayor Byron Brown’s budget called for money to bring ShotSpotter to Buffalo, but that’s not happening at this time.