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Syracuse police restart ShotSpotter program amid rise in violent crime, homicides

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Councilor-at-Large Michael Greene in Syracuse.

The city of Syracuse will resume its ShotSpotter program to detect where gunshots are being fired. The program was disbanded last year due to budget cuts. It comes at a time when violent crime is up in the city, with five homicides so far this year, including an infant who was shot and killed this week.

Credit Syracuse Police Department
Syracuse Police Department
A year-to-date comparison of shootings in Syracuse.

There were 161 shots fired with no injuries reported in Syracuse at this point in 2020. In 2021, there were only 96 shots fired, so far this year. That’s a 40% decline, despite the fact that those injured and killed by gunfire in 2020 and 2021, has remained about the same. Police Sgt. Matthew Malinowski said the discrepancy is because of the ShotSpotter program, which ended in January. It’s a program, he said, that’s been a great investigative tool. Police get more precise locations of where a shooting occurs and can collect shell casings. The way it works is acoustic sensors installed around the city can detect where a gunshot occurred down to a five-square-foot area.

Councilor-at-Large Michael Greene, a Democrat who is running for mayor this year, said the program was cut last year amid other spending cuts due to the pandemic. But the city knew last month that it was getting more than $100 million from the federal government with the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Greene said Mayor Ben Walsh put the program back into this year’s budget. But that doesn’t go into effect until July.

“Right now, we’ve got months to go until this budget ends,” Greene said. "Unfortunately, shootings are still happening every day. We don’t have months to wait to get this program back up and running. We should be taking action right now.”

Greene said it's frustrating because the city bills itself as being a technology and data-driven government. 

"But yet here's a program that's exactly that, that's a force-multiplier for officers, and we're not using it," Greene said. "We're not living up to the standards we set for ourselves."

In a statement, First Deputy Chief Joe Cecile said the Police Department began restarting the service on Monday and the system should be fully operational next week. It costs about $225,000 annually.

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.