Was that a gunshot? New high-tech system will notify KC police

Within a week, Kansas City police will be able to instantly pinpoint every gunshot fired within a 3.55-square-mile area of the urban core.

Previously, police had to rely mostly on residents to report gunfire. But some residents were so used to hearing the staccato blasts that they quit calling police.

A new gunshot detection system called ShotSpotter — which is expected to be running by Monday — will direct officers to within several feet of where the shooter was when the gun was fired. It can also tell them how many shots were fired and how many weapons were used.

In addition, the system will be able to tell officers if shooters are in a vehicle or moving on foot, even providing a speed and direction of travel.

Police won’t be more specific but said the system covers part of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s Troost Max bus route and the Green Impact Zone.

The system will enable officers to respond more quickly to gunfire to increase the chances of catching suspects and finding victims, who may need medical attention.

Even if officers can’t find victims or suspects, officers will contact residents in the area and try to gain information and cooperation and build relationships, police officials said. Police also plan to collect data from the system to help them deploy resources and crime prevention strategies.

The system uses multiple sensors to pick up the sound of gunfire. The information is fed to the operations center of SST Inc., the California-based company that developed and markets it. SST acoustics experts will then assess the information to determine if the sound’s source is indeed gunfire or something else, like a car backfiring or fireworks.

When a sound is verified as a probable gunshot, the experts will alert Kansas City police dispatchers, who will see the location on a map on a monitor. The whole process should take about 45 seconds to one minute, police said.

ShotSpotter is used in more than 70 other cities across the country, police said, but Kansas City is thought to be the first where police and transit officials are collaborating on the project. The system is being funded for five years by a $720,000 federal grant. The money was left over from a previous ATA project.