Kansas City police might expand area for gunfire detection system

A man driving around Kansas City in a stolen car in December was surprised when the car’s owner pulled up next to him and opened fire.

Neither man called police. But the ShotSpotter system did.

The gunshot detection system relayed information about the Dec. 17 gunfire to police dispatchers, who sent officers to the scene in the 4200 block of Bellefontaine Avenue. Officers found the stolen car, the victim who had been shot in the arm and the suspect, who had two guns in his car. The gunman confessed and later pleaded guilty to assault, Jackson County prosecutors said.

That arrest was one of six felony arrests resulting from the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system implemented in a small area of the city in October, according to statistics released Tuesday at a news conference by Police Chief Darryl Forte and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. Cleaver helped secure $720,000 in federal grant money, which will pay for the system for five years, in a partnership with transit officials.

Cleaver said he planned to seek additional funds from Washington, D.C., to expand the program. Forte said he had already identified four areas of the city for possible expansion.

Forte hasn’t released the exact location of the system’s multiple acoustic sensors because he doesn’t want to tip off criminals. But he said the system, which covers a 3.55-square-mile area involving high transit ridership, has detected 1,178 incidents of possible gunfire in seven months. Of those alerts, 977 were confirmed, resulting in dispatchers sending officers to a location. That’s an average of more than four instances of gunfire each day.

Residents in these areas had gotten so used to gunfirethat they stopped reporting gunshots years ago, Forte said. It made residents think the situation was hopeless and that police didn’t care.

“Now when they hear gunshots, we show up, and they realize, ‘Oh, they do care,’” Forte said. “It’s going to help us with relationships. It’s bigger than the numbers.”

Besides the felony arrests, the system has helped police arrest six misdemeanor offenders and three felons who possessed guns. Officers have recovered 13 guns, 342 shell casings and 96 live rounds.

In the coverage area, aggravated assaults by firearms dropped 24 percent during the seven-month period compared to the same time frame in the previous year, Forte said. There was one less homicide in the coverage area, according to the seven-month stats.

The system sends a message to criminals who have become accustomed to being able to shoot without repercussions when no one calls police, Cleaver said.

“There is a new system in town that is going to jeopardize your activities,” he said.

The system directs officers to within 25 meters of the shooter’s location when the gun was fired. It also tells police how many shots were fired and how many weapons were used.

In addition, the system tells officers if shooters were in a vehicle or moving on foot, even providing a speed and direction of travel.

Police analyze the gunfire data for trends, intelligence information and crime prevention strategies. After police noticed repeated gunfire from the same front porch, detectives watched the home and gained a search warrant that led to the arrest of a felon with a gun, Forte said. Police also recovered two guns and PCP, according to information released at the news conference.

The system works by feeding information about possible gunfire to the operations center of SST Inc., the California-based company that developed and markets ShotSpotter. SST acoustics experts then assess the information to determine if the sound’s source is indeed gunfire or something else, like a car backfiring.

When a sound is verified as a probable gunshot, the experts alert Kansas City police dispatchers, who see the location on a map on a monitor. The whole process usually takes less than one minute, police said.

ShotSpotter is used in more than 70 cities, police said, but Kansas City is thought to be the first where police and transit officials collaborated on the project.