A Tuesday morning Jacksonville City Council committee saw an update on the city’s ShotSpotter program from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security Chief Robert Connor.
This much-ballyhooed anti-crime tool does what its name suggests: it identifies, via sound, where a bullet’s origin might be.
For law enforcement, this provides an important tool; for those married to old-school concepts of civil libertarianism, the program arguably marks one more step toward perpetual mass surveillance.
Philosophical questions aside, implementation is “moving along well,” with sensor installation already underway, Connor said. Moves are being made to get permission for sensor placement at Duval County Public Schools also.
Jacksonville has reviewed best practices from other major cities, with progress on pace toward a draft policy and a July training class at the police academy – conducted by ShotSpotter.
“They want to do that training closer to the implementation date,” Connor noted.
For Jacksonville, this is the culmination of a journey toward yet another strategy to reduce senseless gunplay in local battle zones.
Earlier this year, the city “appropriate[d] $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”
Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”
“Although this is less than 1 percent of the land mass, it accounted for 10 percent of the firearm calls and 13 percent of the homicides related to firearms,” Connor said.
Meanwhile, the over 100 installation locations are being kept secret, to prevent malefactors from removing the sensors.
“It’s not exactly noticeable or visible where the sensors are,” Connor said, but the goal is “blanket coverage over the entire five square miles.”
Connor noted that the cloud-based program is “not just a piece of computer software,” and all information is “vetted by a trained person in their review system.”
“Number of shots, position within 25 meters, and number of shooters” are among the types of information available through the program, as is historical data.
Sensors in the area “capture the data,” providing the “when, where, and what” of gunshots, Connor said.
Once a gunshot is confirmed, information will be sent to JSO, with a “flex alerts console” visible on the laptops of officers on patrol.
“That’s really important as we talk about response,” Connor added.
Democratic State Rep. Kim Daniels, a former Jacksonville City Councilwoman who represents part of this area, was successful in getting $325,000 of state funds for the city’s pilot program in the next budget year.
ShotSpotter, a subscription system, has a recurring cost beyond start-up spending.
Connor noted that the system could be expanded in the future, once evidence of effectiveness is provided.
“This is only one piece of the puzzle,” Connor said.
“As we’ve seen in other agencies … the real value comes in the investigation,” Connor added, with “exact detail” helping Jacksonville’s overstretched law enforcement, and with ShotSpotter experts offering friendly testimony in court cases where the technology is used.
License plate readers, NIBIN (a federal database that identifies bullets from casings), and ShotSpotter: all parts of a larger JSO strategy to fight old crime patterns with new technology and techniques.
ShotSpotter and NIBIN can be married to video surveillance; the goal is for a holistic, surveillance-based solution.
“Really, the sky’s the limit as far as the technology goes,” Connor said.
“Seems to me that if you’re going to catch people, marrying it to video technology” would be the move, said Councilman Bill Gulliford.
While Gulliford noted that this could be expensive, it’s worth it to save lives, he said.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who represents one of the areas served by the program, noted that ShotSpotter would give law enforcement tangible data that they can use to go to homes and buildings from which shots could have been fired and ask occupants questions.