Shot-detection system expands in Denver to downtown, Uptown

Denver City Council expands ShotSpotter, which detects gunfire in neighborhoods

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A gunshot detection system will be expanded into the downtown and Uptown neighborhoods later this year to try to decrease violent crime in Denver.

City Council voted in early April to extend its contract with ShotSpotter, a system that uses sensors to detect the sounds of gunfire. Once the system detects a shot, it triangulates the location and sends it to police officers’ smart phones, said Chief Joe Montoya, the division chief of investigations with the Denver Police Department. Although the location is not exact, it’s close enough that it improves officer response time drastically.

When there’s gunfire in neighborhoods, Montoya said, people often are scared and may not call right away, or they may not recognize that the sound is gunfire. By the time police get the call and have time to respond, criminals may be gone.

“Who knows how much time might have lapsed?” Montoya said in a recent interview. ShotSpotter “bypasses someone calling it in.”

The city was already using ShotSpotter in some neighborhoods in the northeastern part of Denver. A federal grant brought it into the city initially, Montoya said. The expansion of the contract will add areas in downtown and Uptown to the system’s coverage. The new contract is more than $2.8 million, according to city records.

Councilmember Albus Brooks, who represents District 9, which covers the downtown areas as well as Five Points, City Park and more, said it is “money well spent.”

Denver police are still ironing out the expansion’s final details, Montoya said, but he hopes to have it ready to go by this summer.

DPD has already used ShotSpotter with some success, Montoya said, noting it has helped the department solve homicide cases. The department has made 134 arrests and recovered 112 firearms since the program was implemented in 2015.

Brooks and fellow councilmember Wayne New, whose District, 10, is also in the new coverage area, support the system. Any new technology that can help police officers with their jobs is important, New said.

For Brooks, the need for the system also struck a personal chord.

He has heard gunshots in his neighborhood, once as many as 50 rounds going off near his house, he said. As the father of three children, Brooks worries for their safety. Decreasing violence in the city is some of the most important work he does as a councilman, Brooks said.

“It’s not just me as a councilman,” he said. “It’s me as a dad, it’s me as a husband and a community leader.”

In addition to the quicker response times, Montoya also said ShotSpotter can help police create a database of bullet casings similar to the ones for fingerprints. Guns leave marks on used bullets that are specific to that weapon. Police can then use those bullets as evidence to see if they tie back to any other crimes.

Montoya is hopeful that other metro-area police departments can also use ShotSpotter to add to this data as well.

“There’s no boundaries for a lot of these individuals,” he said. “The more of us that are involved in trying to solve this problem the more effective it’s going to be.”

Although the system helps police identify gunfire, Montoya still encourages people to call in a report if they suspect a gun has been shot in their area. The goal of this system is to get people wrongfully using guns off the streets.

Part of the push to bring ShotSpotter downtown was because of an increase of shootings in the area, Montoya said.

“We felt it was time to move into downtown in light of some of the most recent incidents,” he said. “We want to maintain that downtown area as a safe place.”

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