Pittsfield City Council OKs Shotspotter gunshot surveillance system

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PITTSFIELD — A gun shot alert system known as ShotSpotter is expected to be up and running in the city within six months.

City Council unanimously approved a $300,000 gift from Berkshire Health Systems Tuesday night. The gift will cover half of the cost of a three-year $600,000 contract for the acoustic surveillance system which detects gunshots in real time and relays the information to police.

"Public safety has always been one of my top priorities," Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said. "We do have a problem. Now with this it will be a heads-up to [police.]"

Mayor Linda Tyer said she hopes to secure grant or institutional funding for the remaining $300,000 but told the council she would not rule out taxpayer support.

"I'm committed to finding the remaining partners but I don't want to eliminate the possibility that the taxpayers might supply some funding," she said.

In an email following the meeting, Tyer explained some private property may be required to host one acoustic device. She said ShotSpotter, which would own and maintain all hardware for the system, would be responsible for securing those rights.

"But first we will use as many public buildings as possible before we seek the assistance of private property owners," Tyer wrote.

Pittsfield's coverage area is confidential, but Police Chief Michael Wynn told the Eagle it was determined by analyzing location data from gun and violent crimes. He said it covers most of the city's urban center.

Wynn told councilors the technology would have helped pinpoint the locations of two reports of gunfire city police responded to Monday night. Four arrests were made related to the two separate incidents. No injuries were reported.

ShotSpotter sensors would allow for a targeted response. Police receive digital alerts with address, latitude and longitude, the number of rounds fired, and type of gunfire within 45 seconds of a shooting.

It "is putting cops on dots," Wynn said echoing the company's shorthand for the technology.

In addition to more accurate and faster response time, Wynn said the technology will help improve evidence collection and apprehension rates.

While he voted in favor of Berkshire Health System's gift supporting ShotSpotter, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said he will be interested to see data on the success or failure rates of the technology.

In November, an investigation by Forbes magazine analyzed ShotSpotter data for seven cities. It made the information for those cities, obtained via public records requests, publicly available.

Brockton police received 296 alerts from ShotSpotter over more than two years. The department concluded 51.35% of those alerts were unfounded. It made two arrests based on the information, according to ShotSpotter police data.

In a separate interview, Wynn said he was interested in the success other Massachusetts police departments have had with the technology. He cited Springfield, which began using the tool in 2008, and has expanded its use of the technology.

Springfield police could not be reached for comment before deadline. In 2010, Masslive reported ShotSpotter detected 4,158 gunshots, contributed to 25 arrests and the seizure of 23 illegal firearms.

During public comment, one Pecks Road resident spoke against the technology.

"I can't really see spending $600,000 on that," Howard Branton said referring to ShotSpotter. "It is not going to save one life."

Under the contract Pittsfield is set to sign it is prohibited from sharing detailed electronic data with others. ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark said the move protects its business model, adding the company intends to sell the data to the federal government or another entity interested in gun violence research.

That's a move researchers interested in the data find troubling. They contend data purchased by cities and towns should be freely available to the public. Citing connections to Berkshire Health Systems, Councilor At-large Kathleen Amuso and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully recused themselves from the discussion of ShotSpotter, Councilor At-Large Melissa Mazzeo was absent.

Carrie Saldo can be reached at 496-6221 or @carriesaldo.


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