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After Successful Tests, ShotSpotter Expansion Goes Live In Pittsburgh

A still from a ShotSpotter promotional video explaining how the system works.

December tests of Pittsburgh’s expanded ShotSpotter system were successful, according to Daniel Shak, manager of public safety technology for the city. The acoustic gunshot detection system is now live in all police zones in the city.

The expansion includes new detection units in Bedford Dwellings, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, Homewood, Marshall-Shadeland, Perry, West End and the Upper Hill District.

Many of those units are mounted on the roofs of business and even private homes, said Shotspotter CEO Ralph Clark.

“Sometimes we will go on poles, our preference is not to go on poles, because often times that doesn’t provide the relative height that we like, which means that we have to deploy more sensors,” he said.

But some have accused the company of being overly aggressive when approaching residents about installing sensors on their homes.

Brooke Nadonley said she initially agreed to have a unit mounted on her house in Mt. Washington, but later changed her mind.

“They contacted my landlord via e-mail, kept calling my landlord. He had told them that he had given me permission to make the decision,” Nadonley said. “They just would not give up.”

In at least once instance, reported by WPXI-TV, a unit was installed on a home without the owner’s permission. The company said the unit was supposed to be installed on a neighbor’s home.

“When I hear about those events, and I don’t hear about them very often, in fact the first time I ever heard about something like this was in the case of Pittsburgh, it’s disappointing. I would just say that that’s not our intent to be pushy at all,” Clark said. “Sometimes I guess we do make mistakes.”

Additionally, some residents have expressed concerns about the acoustic surveillance capabilities of the system. Clark said he encourages those questions.

“I think it’s really important that communities understand what the surveillance is, what it’s capable of doing, what it’s not capable of doing,” he said. “In these times, I think it’s a very important question.”

Clark said the detection units ignore ambient sound, like conversations, and that only gunshot data is relayed to the city.

In a memo to customers, the company said cities should either reject public records requests for such data, or limit their response to include only the type, date, and general area of the alert. Cities are not permitted to release the exact time, location and number of rounds fired. Clark said that policy is meant to protect the company’s intellectual property.

Shotspotter is active in more than 90 cities around the world. The city is expected to pay $3.4 million to the California-based company over the course of three years.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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