The ShotSpotter hardware captures loud audio that could be gunfire, then sends the sound to an SST analyst in Newark, California who determines if it was shots or another noise. If it's determined to be gunfire, the SST employee contacts Kansas City Police dispatch and gives them the location — including latitude and longitude and street addresses — and the number of the shots fired. The dispatcher then sends officers nearby to the scene. According to a police press release, the officers will respond to a ShotSpotter alert as if it was a shots fired 911 call. SST says the whole process takes 45-60 seconds.
Police aren’t disclosing the locations of the hardware. But they say the area will include the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s Troost MAX line and some of the Green Impact Zone. Earlier this year, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver announced he had found federal transportation money for the project. The KCATA is the agency leading the project. A total budget of $720,000 will fund the system and maintenance for five years.
According to an SST study cited by the KCPD, as much as 80 percent of illegal gunfire isn’t reported to police. The companies says more than 70 cities use their systems. And the company has plenty of testimonials and studies on its website touting the use of their shot locators. (This New York Times Article has a good explanation of ShotSpotter's expanded use and its pros and cons.)
But not every city says the ShotSpotter works as promised. In January of this year, Trenton, New Jersey’s city council decided against a $300,000 expansion of the city’s ShotSpotter. A former Trenton police chief told the council to vote down the measure because the system had failed. He cited a Christmas Day shooting in which the body of the victim — shot a couple of blocks from a ShotSpotter unit, but not reported by the company — lay dead in the street for five hours.
“That body was shot there in the head and it stayed there for five hours with ShotSpotter being only a few blocks away. This product does not work, at least not for Trenton,” he told the council. The city had used the system since 2009.