Police to Test Electronic Gunshot-Detection System in Homewood

Dec 16, 2014

Pittsburgh police plan to test an electronic gunshot-detection system later this month in a three square mile area stretching from the East Hills to East Liberty.

Councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents the neighborhoods, said there are three reasons for installing the ShotSpotter system, which can pinpoint the location and direction of shots fired.

“One, it’s a deterrent to prevent people from doing crime and committing homicides,” Burgess said. “Second of all, it’s a tool so that if someone does commit a crime, they can be prosecuted. And the third thing, it aids officers’ safety, so when they go onto scenes they know what caliber that was fired, the direction the shots are coming from, how many shots were fired, and its exact location.”

Police don't want to say exactly when and where they'll test the system with live gunfire, because they don't want to discourage residents from reporting the shots. Those 911 reports will be compared with the results obtained by "ShotSpotter," a system of sensors installed by SST Inc.

Public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said they also want to prevent anyone from coming to watch the test.

“This is not a spectator event,” Toler said. “Live rounds will be used and it is a danger for people if they are just trying to be curious and enter the area where we are conducting these tests.”

The city last year approved spending more than $1 million to install the sensors, which police hope to integrate with video surveillance cameras, which would be activated by the gunfire and, hopefully, help police solve street shooting cases more efficiently.

“The acoustical system, or ShotSpotter, is introduced first so you can get baseline data, and that baseline data determines exactly where the cameras are positioned,” Burgess said.

Toler said police officers and 911 operators are being trained on the system, but police response will be largely the same, with one key difference.

“(The police) will know for a fact that this is not maybe a shots-fired, this is definitely a shots-fired call,” Toler said. “So the officer comes into the scene with confidence (that) a gun has been used at this specific location.”

Toler said the test will reveal if the sensors are calibrated correctly. She said they hope to have the Shot Spotter system operational in early 2015.