Local ShotSpotter success: How sensors pick up gunshots, pinpoint where triggers are pulled

Posted at 3:15 PM, Oct 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 07:39:04-04

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - News 3 continues to investigate gun violence in Hampton Roads. For about a year and half, the News 3 investigative team has taken a deep dive into how local and national law enforcement trace guns, and what officers are seeing on the streets of the Seven Cities.

In the latest part of News 3’s “Trigger Trace” series, we are taking a deep look at technology that puts officers right where shootings have taken place: ShotSpotter.

“We see the spike in gun violence. I see how that impacts our families, loved ones, our communities and our officers that respond,” Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew told News 3. “The reason we went to it, in this city, was for our community.”

The technology uses acoustic sensors to pick up sounds related to gunshots, and pinpoints exactly where the triggers are pulled.

“It can come right up on their computer screen or cell phone, and many times officers will get that indication and how many rounds are fired,” Chief Drew said. “It triangulates where that shooter is, or where those shots are coming from.”

NNPD was the first police department in Virginia to install ShotSpotter back in July 2019.

“I had some information with ShotSpotter from a past agency. We looked at it. We hadn’t gone to it yet, but had looked at it,” Drew said. “When I came here to Newport News just about three and a half years ago, it was a pleasant surprise to sit down with the mayor, and he brought it up to me first. There wasn’t that hurdle to convince.”

Drew told News 3 they collaborated with ShotSpotter, using data to determine the most effective area for installation.

He said, right now, it's set up in a 3 square mile radius in the city's southeast area.

“They will come in and look at our data. They’ll work with our crime analysts. When are we seeing the shootings? What areas are they seeing them at,” Drew explained. “When we look at how many shootings did we have, and what location are those shootings at, if 70 percent are in this area, then that’s the area we need to be focused on.”

“They will not tell us what building the put it on, but we have a pretty good consensus,” Drew added. “What we get is an indication, if one of the sensors go down, they repair it and fix it. It’s clear. It’s clean. We’re not picking on a particular entity, or group, or location. We’re focusing on neighborhoods that are impacted by gun violence.”

News 3 Investigator Zak Dahlheimer sits down with Chief Drew to talk about ShotSpotter's success rate since coming to Newport News. Catch the second part of this News 3 Investigation Monday at 6 p.m.