Nashville Going High-Tech To Curb Shootings, But Will It Help?

NASHVILLE, TN — Tuesday, the Metro Council approved a $302,000 pilot program to install high-tech gunshot detection sensors in three areas with high rates of gun violence.

California-based ShotSpotter will install the acoustic sensors in James A. Cayce Homes, Napier-Sudekum and in the Buena Vista and Elizabeth Park neighborhoods. The Metropolitan Development and Housing Authority will cover $100,000 of the cost of the year-long pilot program with the balance of the funds coming out of Metro’s reserve general fund. The spending was part of the omnibus equipment and building spending resolution approved Tuesday. The program will be reviewed after a year.

ShotSpotter deploys an array of high-end microphones – typically between 15 and 25 per square mile, depending on the acoustic environment – and locates them in such a way that three microphones could pick up distinctive gunfire sounds no matter where the weapon is fired inside the catchment area. Once the microphones detect a potential gunshot, they triangulate the location and timestamp the acoustic signature, transmitting it to ShotSpotter’s headquarters, where acoustic experts verify a shot was fired. If it’s truly a gunshot, ShotSpotter sends the information to local law enforcement.


Though Nashville will be the first Tennessee city to use ShotSpotter – Memphis has repeatedly declined to do so – the system is in use in several large cities throughout the country – New York expanded to a city-wide array in 2016 – and ShotSpotter claims the technology cuts down on gun violence and leads to arrests, but, according to a 2016 Forbes magazine investigation, there’s little third-party verification of the company’s claims. While most experts in law enforcement agree that the technology itself works and “provides law enforcement with the most complete picture of gunfire available,” according to the Forbes study, what happens afterward is a little murkier.

Yet, in some cities, ShotSpotter hasn’t had the effect city officials and residents had hoped for. While officers are responding to more illegal gunfire, they rarely catch the shooter. And evidence that could be used to build a case and bolster a prosecution–such as shell casings left behind or witness testimony–isn’t often attributed to ShotSpotter in police or court records. The question now is whether the technology is worth the millions of dollars it’s costing taxpayers each year, and if the lack of tangible results is because we don’t have the ability to measure them, or that they simply don’t exist.

Forbes’ review found that while the technology has increased the number of police calls in shots-fired cases, they have only led to arrests in 1 percent of those calls.

Still, Metro officials are hopeful.

“This is going to save a lot of time. It’s going to put a laser like focus, it’s going to increase the responsiveness of law-enforcement and in doing all of that you create an environment where gun fire is least likely to happen because people with guns will know there’s a higher risk of them getting caught if they actually use them,” Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement director Lonnell Matthews told NewsChannel 5.

Image via Shutterstock

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