Surveillance Technology That Tracks Gunshots Coming to San Diego

Over 90 cities worldwide use ShotSpotter technology.

Update Oct. 28: San Diego Police told NBC 7 that the ShotSpotter program is coming on line. The time frame for the system to be installed and operational in the Skyline/Encanto area is not known at this time. The cost for the program is $235,000, with funds coming from the asset forfeiture program. The $300,000 request from SANDAG that was rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice was for supplemental support for the ShotSpotter system.

The name says it all: the ShotSpotter.

It’s an acoustic surveillance technology that tracks gunshots, alerting police agencies where the shots came from using real time data 20 to 45 seconds after a gun is discharged and it will soon be used in San Diego.

The Newark, California based company’s technology is already in use across the state, including in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fresno and Oakland.

The plan, according to records obtained from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) would be to “invest in ShotSpotter technology in an identified high-crime area.”

Update Oct. 13: SANDAG told NBC 7 late Friday that the grant for a possible ShotSpotter program has been rejected. NBC 7 is reaching out to the San Diego Police Department, seeking clarity on this development.

According to the project description, the area targeted will be in “various locations within the boundaries of the Encanto and Skyline-Paradise Hills Community Plan Areas.”

The technology uses acoustic sensors that are scattered (normally between 15-20 per square mile) to triangulate gunshot activity. The sensors sit above the ground, thirty to forty feet, in building rooftops, street lights, light poles and cell towers.

In order to move forward with the project in San Diego, the San Diego Police Department had to apply for an environmental exemption.

Click here to see the request for environmental exemption sent to the city.

The SANDAG submitted a grant request to the United States Department of Justice for the technology. In the request SANDAG said violent crime has increased and “law enforcement is struggling in some communities to deal with over 140 gangs and 6,617 documented gang members” adding to this are “an increasing number of ex-offenders returning from custody with little or no members who are fearful and as a result, reluctant to cooperate with police.”

It’s part of a plan to create a Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC), the SANDAG said. The goal is strengthen community ties by better understanding the nature of unreported shootings in the Encanto-Skyline area. The data created, the agency says, will support the CGIC efforts to identify, arrest, prosecute and convict violent crime repeat offenders.

In Miami, the ShotSpotter program identified 8,280 bullets in its first year of operation in a high crime area, according to an article in the Miami Herald. It was found that in some corners of Miami gunshots are so commonplace no one calls the 9-1-1 operator making the only trace the high-tech gunfire detection system. Police in that Florida city say they use the information to track and respond to gun shots.

Over ninety cities worldwide now use the system.

In New York City, a WNBC report found the city was doubling down on their technology, expanding the area covered by the program. A report from the mayor’s office highlighted that in three out of every four shootings captured by ShotSpotter no witnesses picked up the phone to call 911.

An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity brought into question the reliability of the technology. Reporter Matt Drange dug into thousands of alerts in cities across the country and according to the news organization “a clear pattern emerged: lots of calls, few tangible results.” 

In June NBC 7 Investigates requested information from all local police agencies about their plans to use of the ShotSpotter technology. At that time, most agencies responded to our California Open Records Request, saying they had not had any communications regarding the possible purchase or use of the technology. The El Cajon Police Department responded and said it had been in contact with the company.

Click here to read the response from El Cajon PD. 

Contact Us