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Pueblo Police push to add multi-million dollar gunshot detection system

Posted at 12:44 AM, Sep 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-06 02:59:22-04

PUEBLO — The Pueblo Police Department (PPD) is pushing to implement new technology aimed at helping police respond to crimes as they are happening.

Pueblo Police Chief Chris Noeller gave a presentation to the Pueblo City Council Tuesday night about adding a Real Time Crime Center (RTCC) to help respond faster to areas in the city experiencing higher crime rates.

"With our manpower issues, it's a way to force multiply the personnel that we have. It gives us the ability to use the technology in real-time and will help us help our officers as they respond to calls for service, even before someone calls," said Noeller.

The RTCC uses sensors manufactured by SoundThinking, the gunshot detection technology company formerly known as ShotSpotter, to pick up on loud and impulsive sounds, like gunshots.

The technology uses a two-phase review to confirm the sounds of gunfire before sending a notification to officers. First, artificial intelligence software reviews the sound and filters out any non-gunfire incidents. Second, a SoundThinking employee at the company's incident review center verifies the reported gunfire. PPD said it is looking to hire four RTCC analysts to work in the department who will then feed that information to officers. The company said police will be notified of confirmed gunfire within 60 seconds of the incident.

The notification includes information about the location, time, number of shooters, type of weapon, and a short audio clip of the shots fired.

The sensors are installed throughout a proposed area, normally in areas with high crime. Chief Noeller said the sensors would be put around two square miles of the city's Eastside and one square mile of the Southside. Data from the police department shows there were 48 homicides, 672 drive-by shootings, and 3,502 shots fired calls in the two areas combined from Jan. 2021 to April 2023.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar is in favor of implementing the software and said it could provide more safety for officers.

“It'll help them narrow down where the shots came from so that the police can respond. So it's an officer safety thing because the officers will have more information when they arrive on the scene than they would have without this system," said Gradisar.

PPD said the up-front cost of the RTCC would be slightly over $2.2 million and paid for by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The initial cost includes 22 surveillance cameras, 22 license plate readers, RTCC computers and servers, SoundThinking software, hiring four RTCC analysts, and two trailers with mobile surveillance solar cameras.

The recurring costs would include the $83,776 salary for each RTCC analyst, $210,000 each year for the SoundThinking technology, and almost $200,000 in annual licensing and other fees for technology through Genetec, a security and intelligence company.

According to its website, SoundThinking is used in more than 150 cities across the nation. The technology has faced criticisms in the past regarding its effectiveness and privacy concerns.

The Chicago Police Department implemented the technology in 2018. A report released in 2021 by the City of Chicago's Inspector General reviewing the use of the system said between Jan. 2020 to May 2021, police responses to SoundThinking alerts "rarely produce evidence of a gun-related crime, rarely give rise to investigatory stops, and even less frequently lead to the recovery of gun crime-related evidence during an investigatory stop."

However, Chief Noeller said PPD has looked to success stories from places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the city's police department implemented the SoundThinking technology in July 2020. The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) highlighted a few early successes of the system in a 2020 press release, claiming the technology helped officers arrest multiple felons, and recover narcotics and firearms.

"No system is going to work 100% of the time. That's why we have human beings that go out and still investigate these crimes," said Noeller.

He also addressed concerns about the system potentially invading privacy with microphones in parts of the city.

“The goal is not to catch people doing what normal people do. We're looking at crimes and people that are committing crimes," he said.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Springs Police Department said it implemented a pilot program of a different gunshot detection technology called FireFLY, but it is no longer in use.

According to the Chief’s presentation, the RTCC will also have the ability to pull surveillance video from businesses with their permission. Homeowners with surveillance systems, like Ring doorbell cameras, will also be able to register their systems with the department. Chief Noeller said this would help increase the coverage of the system.

Pueblo City Councilmembers will vote during the regular council meeting on Sept. 25 on whether or not to approve the technology.

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