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Cleveland Expands Surveillance Network With ShotSpotter And Private Cameras

A ShotSpotter employee monitors data from the field. [ShotSpotter]
The back of a man sitting in front of a wall full of surveillance monitors.

Cleveland is six months into a 2-year pilot program testing a gunfire alert system, and the police department says, so far, it has greatly increased knowledge of shootings in the test area.

In November, the Cleveland police started testing technology made by the company ShotSpotter.

The system uses audio sensors and algorithms to differentiate gun shots from other sounds like fire crackers or engines backfiring. It determines the location the shots came from and alerts local police within 60 seconds.

The city is testing the system in a 3-square-mile part of the Fourth Police District on the city’s east side.

According to Fourth District Commander Brandon Kutz, calls to 911 accounted for only about 15 percent of gunfire incidents picked up by ShotSpotter in the pilot area.

“Eighty-five percent are going unreported by the community. Push that outside of the coverage area and across the city and that’s a pretty sobering number,” Kutz told city council’s public safety committee Wednesday.

ShotSpotter alerts have led to four lives saved and 27 arrests, Kutz said.

The system costs $65,000 per square mile each year to operate, plus a $10,000 set up fee, plus another fee to connect the city’s crime center and dispatch with ShotSpotter’s analysis centers in California and Washington, D.C.

During Wednesday’s meeting, councilmembers expressed interest in spreading the technology throughout the city.

“Gunshots constantly, constantly in the heart of the Glenville neighborhood,” said Councilman Michael Polensek. “I’d like to see the program expanded to sections of Glenville.”

According to ShotSpotter representatives, no city is fully covered by ShotSpotter sensors. Their two largest coverage areas are Chicago, with 117 square miles of monitoring, and New York City, with about 90 square miles covered.

“It really should be a data driven deployment, looking at that gun crime data and seeing where the need exists within the city. Chances are you do not need to cover your whole city,” said Trish Layne, ShotSpotter’s Midwest sales director.

Studies have found that, while effective at locating gunshots and quickly alerting authorities, it produces a sharp increase in calls for service but little effect on crime rates.

Enhancing Surveillance

This is one of several enhanced surveillance technologies the city has adopted recently. In February, Cleveland officials announced plans to start a drone program, and Cuyahoga County started installing automated license plate readers at intersections countywide in 2017.

And in the past couple of years the city installed 1,200 surveillance cameras allowing for live monitoring at the police real time crime center.

Next up, according to Cleveland Chief Information Officer Donald Phillips, will be connecting a live feed from non-city-owned surveillance cameras.

“Whether they be government agencies, whether they be larger commercial entities that have cameras already and are willing to share that data,” Phillips said. “So we’re trying to do a pilot now that says, “How do we properly get the information and those cameras from those partners?’”

According to Phillips, the city would likely have to expand its real time crime center to monitor all the video that it would like to collect.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.