Delray To Consider Shotspotter Program To Help Curb Gun Violence

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Staff report

Delray Beach officials will consider paying for a technological service geared toward identifying where a gun is fired with an overarching goal of preventing gun violence.

ShotSpotter is a service currently utilized by about 100 cities, including West Palm Beach.

During a recent community redevelopment agency meeting, the board heard a presentation on what the technology could do for a 2-mile area in the agency’s district that is responsible for more than half of the city’s gun-related crimes.

ShotSpotter is a network of acoustic sensors that detects gun shots and then alerts the police of where the shot was fired. The service helps improve response times to gunfire incidents and helps police officers locate more evidence like casings and prosecute suspects, according to the company.

“We think it’s a valuable tool for law enforcement,” Police Chief Javaro Sims said.

The sensors sit passively until they are activated by a noise like a gun shot. That noise is then sent to an incident review center where the sound goes through a two-tier process to determine if it’s gunfire. An acoustic specialist will confirm if it’s gunfire and notify police in under one minute. They will also be able to tell how many shooters they think are involved and what kind of weapon may have been fired.

A ShotSpotter representative said it goes from reactive to a proactive way of policing. He also told the board the program picks up gunshots that are not called in and also helps police recover more shell casings, which can help find the criminal.

The pitch to the CRA board was to set up the program and have the agency fund it. But chairwoman and Mayor Shelly Petrolia questioned if the decision should be a policy decision from the commission first.

The city manager and board ultimately agreed to postpone making a decision until the commission discusses the topic. But several board members supported the service.

“Nothing eliminates more than getting rid of crime,” Commissioner Bill Bathurst said.

The agency’s main mission is to eliminate slum and blight.

Mayor Petrolia questioned whether the program will actually decrease the number of guns fired or if it just zeros in on where those shootings are taking place.

Board member Pam Brinson, who lives in the area that would receive the technology, said it is a conversation that needs to be addressed.

She said she has had to call the police from the floor of her home after she heard gunshots in the area.

Between Jan. 1, 2016 and Oct. 12, 2018, a study of the 2 mile area showed that 56 percent of gun-related crimes in the city took place in that area. The two murders that occurred happened in that area as did 68 percent of the shootings, a total of 77 shootings.

The proposed area covers Pompey Park, SD Spady Elementary, Pine Grove Elementary and Village Academy.

“I was overwhelmed when I saw the number of shots,” Commissioner Shirley Johnson said. “I live in the 2 mile district. I am amazed as to how many shots were fired in that vicinity. I am just happy to see something being done by our police department to try to use technology available. I am willing to do this whether it is the city or the CRA. We need to do something to help the police department respond to these situations a little faster and restore the faith that the police department cares about us.”

There is a start-up cost of about $30,000, which includes installation and training. Then, the program is an annual subscription of about $130,000 per year.

It is unclear when the topic will go before commissioners for discussion.