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Funding approved for gunfire sensors, could come to Syracuse by spring

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler.

The Syracuse Common Council has voted to pay for the technology that will allow police to hear gunshots fired in the city in real time. The ShotSpotter program is expected to cost around $200,000 annually. The council approved $300,000 for its first year.

The city is signing on to a subscription service with the Silicon Valley-based company, ShotSpotter. Between 45-60 acoustic sensors will be installed in a three-square mile radius of Syracuse. The sensors detect when a gunshot occurs and alerts police squad cars, 911 and investigators. ShotSpotter regional director Jack Pontious said police will get the location and the audio file of a gunshot.

“Which is extremely important because then they know how severe the event is," Pontious said. "Is it more than one shooter? Is it a drive-by? Is there more than one weapon? Is it in the front yard, is it in the back yard, it is on the street? All things that are important to the chief and his team.”   

The Syracuse Police Department will determine the area where the sensors go.

"That's based on data," Pontious said. "Gunfire is a very complex problem. Frankly, what we do know, and we're almost in 100 cities, is that its perpetrated by a few bad actors. Not everyone is out there shooting guns but a few guys are. We want to get those guys off the streets, and those guns off the streets, that keep showing up in the same crimes all the time."

Pontious said other cities where the sensors have been deployed are seeing big reductions in gun violence and he used Camden, New Jersey as an example.

"The chief of police in Camden will tell you they fish with a spear, not a net," Pontious said. "Very surgical, based on ShotSpotter alerts coming into police and they can respond very accurately."

ShotSpotter is responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment. Pontious said they will put the sensors on top of government buildings first.

"Police and fire substations, schools, then we would start looking at some apartment buildings maybe some businesses in the area," Pontious said. "Those are the kinds of locations we would typically go for first. If we have to use light poles, we would use those on occasion. We really stay off of private residences."        

The audio sensors will link up with the city’s current array of police cameras and could go up as quickly as this spring.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.