Originally created 03/15/03

New gunfire detection system to begin in Charleston



NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. A high-tech system that allows police to pinpoint gunfire has been declared a success in North Charleston and should be running in Charleston in about three weeks.

Called ShotSpotter, the system uses acoustic sensors linked by phone lines to a computer to tell dispatchers exactly where guns are fired.

The system, demonstrated for reporters Friday, can differentiate between gunfire and other loud noises such as firecrackers and bottle rockets.

When an incident is recorded, a colored dot pops up on a map of the city and dispatchers can then zoom in to a specific street or house. Gunshots appear as red dots, firecrackers - which make different sounds - are yellow while an aircraft engine shows as purple.

The system also allows dispatchers to replay the audio of the gunshots.

"It's a wonderful new tool and the criminal element should be worried," said Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

The sensors are put in high crime districts and the computer determines the location of the gunshot by triangulation between the sensors in much the same way geologists using seismic readings determine the epicenter of earthquakes.

While parts of the North Charleston system were operating earlier this year, the complete array of sensors has been in place only about a week. And police dispatchers in Charleston received training on their system this week.

U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr. said each system costs about $350,000 - money U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., helped to get for the local communities.

In North Charleston, there have been three arrests as a result of the new system.

Dispatchers using ShotSpotter also used the system to tell when a drive-by shooting had occurred. Based on the gunshot information, the computer could tell dispatchers the direction and speed of the vehicle.

"This is something that gives us a step up on the bad guys," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.

On Friday, the system was demonstrated as a police officer across town fired a gun and reporters saw it logged on a computer linked to the city police dispatcher's desk.

Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg said he was skeptical about the system last year when Thurmond said he wanted to work with local communities to bring ShotSpotter to South Carolina.

"You don't find many magic pills that work," Greenberg said. "I'm very excited about the program now."