Friday, June 29, 2007


I went to the CAC meeting at the MPD 3rd District last night to hear the Shotspotter presentation. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I went away feeling a bit let down.

The (fairly brief) presentation was made by an MPD officer named Brito (wasn't quite sure I got the name right), who gave a quick overview of Shotspotter capabilities. Basically it is a sophisticated microphone system that can distinguish between gunshots and other similar noises (like firecrackers, backfires, etc.) and pinpoint their location within 10-20 feet. The system has been set up in the 7th District (in Anacostia) and is tied in to the MPD control center, so that it can give virtually instantaneous information about shootings without relying on call-ins from citizens. The officer noted that the people who call in usually have only a vague idea about the location of the shots (something we're all familiar with), and they frequently are unavailable or unwilling to give follow-up information. According to him, it has proved a useful tool for apprehending guns and shooters where it has been used.

I asked about how decisions are made about where the system is deployed, and noted that in PSA 308 we have been experiencing several incidents of gunfire virtually every week and lots of residents are keen on having Shotspotter deployed here. The answer was that the initial deployment was paid for by the FBI, and it is being installed in the 7th, 6th, and 5th districts (in that order), with the FBI funds. Beyond that, however, he said it will have to go through the normal procurement system, which I take to mean that it will have to be paid for out of MPD budget allocations. As I understood his answer, there are no imminent plans to deploy it in the 3rd District. No one else asked any questions about it.

I'd like to be proved wrong, but my takeaway from this is that the only way we're going to see Shotspotter around here soon (or maybe ever) is to ratchet up the political pressure on the Mayor, Council, and the Police Chief by writing to them and demanding this. I think we have a good case, given the frequency of gunfire in this area, and Columbia Heights (also in MPD3) is another hot spot. This is also one more reason to call in 911 or 311 if you hear gunfire--it does go into the record and help establish a statistical basis for putting it here rather than somewhere else. [BTW, I'm trying to maintain a little DIY database of such incidents that I pick up off of the blogs, listserves, etc.]

I think we all realize that Shotspotter is just a tool, not a panacea, and the degree to which it helps depends greatly on the response time of the officer on duty at the time. After all, we've had shootings recently with officers less than a block away, and the response time in those instances was at least as good as one could hope for with Shotspotter. The basic problem remains that there are too many young dudes packing heat. One sidelight to last night's discussion was the observaton that even though being caught with an unlicensed gun is a felony, the courts generally don't give jail time until the same individual has multiple offenses.

Commander McCoy also noted that several new crime cameras are being installed in the area: 5th and N, 11th and N, 9th and T, and 200 block of V. There's some discussion of these on the MVSNA blog, with most people saying that they just push the criminal activity somewhere else, or don't really help deter crime. I guess I'm agnostic on whether they're worth the expense. Still, I'm kinda glad there's one on my corner.


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