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How to tell the difference between gunshots and fireworks

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Posted at 4:47 PM, Jul 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 21:37:23-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - A local city is armed to pinpoint the exact location a gun is fired.

"ShotSpotter triangulates it right to where the shots were last fired, so we're able to go to those [crime] scenes much more quickly than somebody picking up the phone and calling 911," said Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew.

As there's an uptick in violence locally, Newport News is still the only city in Virginia with the ShotSpotter technology.

ShotSpotter is a series of sensors placed around the city that measure gun shots and use top-of-the-line technology to find the exact location of a shooting. The company said their technology is so advanced it can even detect the caliber of gun being used.

Chief Drew emphasized, saying, "It's so sophisticated that it can give you a very strong indicator of the type of firearm and type of round used."

Chief Drew said in the few years since they've had the technology installed on the south side, it's helped his department respond better, especially on holiday weekends like the Fourth of July when lots of loud bangs will fill the air.

The system is able to distinguish between what's a gunshot and what's just fireworks, but not everyone can. In fact, many people take to social media and neighborhood community apps to ask, "Were those gunshots or fireworks?"

Heading into the weekend, with recorded audio from ShotSpotter, News 3 wanted to provide viewers with the opportunity to hear the difference between:

Ron Teachman, director of Public Safety Solutions at ShotSpotter, said, "There are a couple of things that are unique about fireworks - you might hear a whistle; you might hear 'tsss,' but this is why ShotSpotter is so important because we can determine the difference. If the police know what among all those bangs, booms and pops is gunfire, then they can allocate those resources appropriately."

He said in addition to the technology processing the sounds, trained acoustic technicians also go through a number of steps to verify the "pop."

Chef Drew said even if you can't tell whether it's gunfire or sparklers, call it in.

"If you hear something and you’re not sure, go ahead and call and let us drive through the neighborhood to make sure it’s okay," he said.