San Jose to test gunshot detection technology
The San Jose Police Department has been researching gunshot detection technology since last year. Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

San Jose is testing out a new gunshot detection program that aims to reduce violence in the city and help police respond faster.

The program will be tested in the Cadillac Winchester area, where violent crime has been an ongoing issue, according to Vice Mayor Chappie Jones.

“There’s been a couple of homicides over the past year, as well as other shootings and it’s a major concern for my residents as well as for my office,” Jones said. “We’re doing proactive things like having increased police patrols and having the police out walking in the neighborhood, and trying to have a greater police presence but the police can’t be there all the time.”

Jones said he began searching for alternatives to boots on the ground and came across the idea of gunshot detection technology. When he approached SJPD, he found they were on the same wavelength. Steven Aponte, spokesperson for SJPD, said the department has been exploring its options since 2019.

“As the Capital of Silicon Valley, and as a forward thinking police department that understands the importance of technology usage, we want to make sure that we are up to date and utilizing the best practices and the best equipment available to us,” Aponte said.

Jones said the pilot with tech company V5 Systems is expected to begin within the next few weeks, but was unable to provide an exact date.

Maria Ines Ortega Barrera, Cadillac Winchester resident of 19 years, said she feels unsafe in her neighborhood and would welcome a gunshot detection program.

“While this technology will not solve the problem, I do feel safer knowing this program will be in my neighborhood,” Ortega Barrera said. “Also, it would help the community do their part in calling 911 or 311.”

Research from the National Institute of Justice found that one brand of gunshot detection software, called ShotSpotter, accurately detected 80% of the shots fired within a one square mile testing area. The average response time to resident reports of gunfire was about 10 minutes faster with ShotSpotter than it was without.

For the most part, police response to the technology-generated reports was about the same as the response to resident reports, but overall the technology could shave off an average of two minutes per gunshot report.

Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said anything with the potential to reduce gun crime in San Jose is a good thing, “whether it’s committing a crime or just shooting guns off into the air like we see on New Year’s Eve.”

Over the past eight years, there were nearly 13,000 resident reports of gunshots in San Jose, according to SJPD data. Of these, there was no evidence found to show that 5,300 of the reports were actually gun related.

Aponte said the detection software will also help distinguish between fireworks and gunshots on holidays such as the Fourth of July, when SJPD receives a high volume of gun-related calls. He said other times, residents will call to report gun activity when a transformer blows.

But what happens when the threatening sounds aren’t fireworks or a blown transformer?

V5 Systems OnSound gunshot detection devices use acoustic sensors and artificial intelligence to identify the location and direction of gunfire. Police can obtain audio files, Google maps or video from the device. The information is then fed to smartphones, computers, radios and police vehicles via WiFi, satellites or radio frequencies.

V5 Systems boasts up to 90% accuracy in a 250 foot range for its gunshot detection devices. AI technology is supposed to boost accuracy the longer the device stays in the same location.

According to county data from 2017, 507 aggravated assaults involving guns were reported along with 381 robberies. This year, there have been 21 homicides in San Jose, according to SJPD data, but it is unclear how many involved firearms.

“We know that in other cities, this technology has been effective in pinpointing weapons that are discharged,” Saggau said, citing Chicago as an example. “In some jurisdictions, it’s been very helpful.”

Gunshot detection sensors from ShotSpotter are used by other California cities including Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, Salinas and Bakersfield.

Aponte said the pilot program will be free to the city. After seeing the results, the city will then decide whether to use gun detection technology in other areas of the city.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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