BY BRIDGET CHAPMAN, WREG
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We’re all aware of the gun violence running rampant in our city. Last year, Memphis police reported getting more than 11,000 calls for shots fired.
Officers say they want to respond to every shooting there is, but some think the police aren’t doing all they can to bring the numbers down.
“This council has been proactive in trying to find every means necessary as it pertains to helping reduce crime in our city,” said Berlin Boyd with Memphis City Council.
In 2016, council members allocated over half a million dollars to go toward gunshot detection technology, specifically one brand called ShotSpotter.
There are testimonials of it helping all over the country, like in New York, Chicago and New Jersey.
“It helps us catching guys and it helps us with officer safety, now these officers are not traveling blindly into an area where a gunshot is,” said Lt. Richard Verticelli with the Camden County Police Department.
It works by putting sensors in crime-ridden neighborhoods that can detect gunshots.
The technology narrows in on where the shooter is and how many there are, then alerts police within a minute of the trigger being pulled.
The goal is to catch the suspect while they’re still on the scene or at least gather data of gunshot patterns in the city.
“With the gun violence that we experience here in the city of Memphis and some communities, I’d think it is pertinent,” said Boyd. “It should be one of our top priorities.”
Councilman Boyd said council members set aside money to put ShotSpotter in Memphis for a year covering eight square miles.
That was about two years ago and nothing’s happened since.
“I’m still mesmerized,” said Boyd. “I’m in awe as to why we haven’t moved forward with ShotSpotter.”
ShotSpotter’s CEO Ralph Clark said their research shows the majority of gunshots heard aren’t reported for various reasons. He said ShotSpotter’s shown to help neighbors trust police.
“I think there’s a lot of power that goes into a community seeing police respond to all gunfire in an at-risk community in the same way they would possibly respond or would most likely respond to gunfire in at affluent community,” said Clark.
Memphis police do have their own form of gunshot detection technology. They’re coupled with some of the cameras around the city. The sensors detect loud noises and the cameras look for a shooting.
“We use two different brands,” said Deputy Chief Don Crowe with MPD Information Technology. “At this point, we really don’t want to divulge those brands; we’re still evaluating them.”
SkyCops were first installed in Memphis in 2007 and the gunshot recognition devices were first put here in 2010.
Deputy Chief Crowe said MPD received a federal grant last October to install more cameras and gunshot radars.
“After dark, the cameras don’t have as far visibility as they do during the daytime, so we’re still trying to work through that,” said Deputy Chief Crowe.
He said they haven’t seen a significant benefit from the gunshot radars so far. And they still deal with false reports when it’s a different loud noise, like a car backfiring — Something ShotSpotter says they’ve advanced past.
Memphis police say they want to finish testing out the current technology before moving on to trying others.
“But if you do have something like ShotSpotter that has testimonials from huge cities all over the country, why wouldn’t you want to try it if the money’s there?” asked WREG’s Bridget Chapman.
“Well, we want to be successful with what we have before we move on to something different. We want to evaluate and see what’s the best fit,” said Deputy Chief Crowe.
He said police also don’t want technology to replace witnesses calling in.
Councilman Boyd says he’s still going to fight for ShotSpotter and if not, the money allocated for it will go toward something else.
“You’re not going to stop crime, but it’s a way to reduce crime and I think if you reduce crime in certain communities and neighborhoods then you can make those communities more attractive to developers and or business owners to come in and say, ‘I want to open up a business here,'” said Boyd.
We put in a public records request to get the contracts that involve the current gunshot detection technology in the city to find out more about them and the company that operates them.