YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — You can call them the “ears” of the community — the police department’s gunshot sensors.
The sensors, known as ShotSpotter, have tipped off police to the three latest shootings in the city — a double shooting Oct. 11 at Market Street and East Lucius Avenue where two men were wounded, a shooting Tuesday night in the 300 block of East Boston Avenue where a man was wounded in the arm while sitting in his home, and a homicide Wednesday in the first block of Hilton Avenue where Deion Harris, 25, was killed.
In all three cases, officers were first dispatched when the gunshot sensors notified the city’s 911 Center that there was gunfire in the area.
In the case of the homicide, officers investigating found Harris’ body in the back yard of the home. Police have yet to make an arrest, but police Chief Robin Lees said they have several leads in the case.
So far this year, officers have answered 346 ShotSpotter calls.
The system has been in place since 2010 when former police Chief Jimmy Hughes decided to implement it. Several cities throughout the United States, including Chicago and Columbus, also use the technology.
The city pays ShotSpotter about $61,000 a year to maintain the system.
Not every ShotSpotter call generates a police report or contact. Sometimes, officers arrive in the area of a sensor activation and find no evidence at all of gunfire. Other times, they will find shell casings.
Lees said the technology has led to some arrests because officers who respond to a gunshot call generated by the sensor will sometimes find people loitering in the area. Officers are then able to make arrests and confiscate guns.
Those cases have involved people firing a gun to show off or celebratory gunfire, Lees said.
“When that happens, you can take a gun off the street,” Lees said.
The technology has other benefits, Lees said. In some shooting and homicide cases, officers were dispatched when the sensors were activated, which was before someone could call 911. Arriving earlier allows police to find and preserve evidence before someone has the ability to remove it from a crime scene or alter it.
Arriving earlier, even seconds earlier, also helps because police can stop cars coming from a certain area where heavy gunfire has been detected or a victim has been found.
Sometimes, a resident can call 911 because they hear gunfire, but they can not pinpoint the exact location of the shots, Lees said. That is not a problem with ShotSpotter.
“Several residents can call in hearing gunfire, but because of acoustics, there’s nothing to pinpoint a location,” Lees said. “But because of ShotSpotter, we discover a crime scene and recover evidence that can have a direct impact on our investigation.”
Lees pointed to the April 2014 homicide of Maurise Kerns, 24, as an example of how the technology helps solve homicides.
Lees said officers responded to a ShotSpotter call on Idora Avenue and were able to get there quickly. They found Herns dead on the front porch of a vacant home, but because they were there so quickly, they were able to recover several pieces of evidence that allowed detectives to zero in on suspects and close the case within 24 hours.
Besides the death of Harris Wednesday, officers answering a gunfire sensor call August 19 found Anthony Bowers, 29, shot to death in a car in the 200 block of Sherwood Avenue. Police have yet to make an arrest in that case.
The sensors are placed on the South Side, but police do not want to disclose their exact locations. Lees said the sensors are the equivalent of having three extra patrol cars in the area to sniff out gunfire.
The department is also looking to possibly add more sensors through grants or partnering with different agencies.