BANG! The shot rang out after midnight, sending revelers who had spilled from a house party screaming and running down a scrappy Long Island street. Four miles away, in a concrete bunker 25 feet below ground, an emergency dispatcher jumped at the sound, and homed in on its source.
Within moments, a police car, its siren wailing, was racing to the scene, in the heart of Uniondale. A second shot went off. Four men were arrested as they tried to speed away. The officers also found two guns, both illegal, their muzzles still warm. No one had been hit.
The dispatcher had heard and mapped the shots using ShotSpotter, a gunshot tracking system that has been adopted so far by 45 cities, universities and government sites — giving its operators near-bionic listening powers, often in troubled places.
In recent months, ShotSpotter has been deployed in pockets of Westchester County, Nassau County, New Jersey and New Haven, and officials say it has helped the police respond to shootings faster, aid victims sooner and catch suspects almost in the act.
“This thing has been tremendous so far,” said Officer Joseph Avery, a police spokesman in New Haven. “We actually caught a woman with a smoking gun in her hand.”
ShotSpotter is made by a 14-year-old eponymous company in Mountain View, Calif., that is considered a leader in the field of acoustic gunshot tracking, though there are other systems: Sentri, made by Safety Dynamics of Tucson, monitors smaller areas with cameras and microphones, and the mobile Boomerang system, made by BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass., is used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq to track sniper fire.
The ShotSpotter system uses microphones that transmit the sound of a gunshot to a police mainframe computer seconds after the firing. The wireless sensors also gauge their distance from the noise, like bats, triangulating the information to direct the police to the shooting site. If the system sounds like Big Brother, it is, kind of — except, one police official insisted, it eavesdrops only on things that go bang.
“There is no personally identifying information associated with this,” said the official, William G. Flanagan, a deputy commissioner for the Nassau County police. “It’s capturing gunfire.”
ShotSpotter was deployed in Nassau County in late July, covering three square miles of an area the police refer to as “the gun corridor” in Roosevelt and Uniondale, two struggling, adjoining towns. The police spent $800,000 on the system; it costs $200,000 to $250,000 per square mile of coverage to install, with an annual maintenance fee after the first year of about 15 percent of the installation price. …
According to Infowars, ‘The Department of Homeland Security is looking to install “gunshot detector” microphones that are capable of listening to conversations throughout “urban areas” of Washington, DC.’