Automated gunfire detector? Part of West Seattle on recommendation list

This afternoon at 2 pm, the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee, chaired by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, looks at a high-tech solution to a recurring problem: How to tell when reports of gunshots are really gunshots – and how to find out about gunfire if no one reports it. The committee will see a presentation for a system called ShotSpotter, which involves acoustic sensors – a media advisory for today’s meeting summarizes it this way:

How will the Automated Gunfire Locating System work? When gunfire occurs outdoors, acoustic sensors will activate instantly and software will triangulate and identify the exact location of the gunfire. A gunfire and acoustic expert analyzes and validates the audio data and routes the alert to the police dispatch center. Within minutes, the police will receive critical information and arrive at the exact location of the gunfire knowing how many shots were fired, the original shooter’s position, speed and direction of travel (if shooter moved) and exact time of gunfire.

The company’s PowerPoint is online as part of the committee agenda, so we took a look, and noticed the map above – labeling part of West Seattle as an area recommended for the sensors, because it’s one of three areas in the city that together represent 55 percent of the shots/shootings/weapons calls (the West Seattle area mentioned is described as representing 8 percent of the calls), while only comprising 18 percent of the city’s acreage. Today’s meeting is a briefing – no specific proposal is up for a vote; too soon for that, and note that the slide deck says the cost of this is $40,000-$60,000/square mile annually – but if you’re interested in watching, Seattle Channel will have it live, on cable 21 and online at

ADDED EARLY FRIDAY: Our partners at The Seattle Times covered the hearing; here’s their report.

31 Replies to "Automated gunfire detector? Part of West Seattle on recommendation list"

  • cjboffoli July 12, 2012 (11:39 am)

    Fascinating stuff. More efficient policing through technology.
    I really love color temperature charts like this too. They make demographic analysis so compelling. I can’t say any of those hot spots is a surprise. It would be so interesting to see this overlaid with a bunch of other metrics.

  • skeeter July 12, 2012 (11:54 am)

    Of the three boundaried areas, only the West Seattle portion is spotty. In other words, the central and south areas are almost completely “colored in” whereas the West Seattle boundary is more than half not “colored in.” I’m curious how the lines were determined given this discrepancy.

    • WSB July 12, 2012 (12:07 pm)

      I don’t have any further info at this point but was going to comment that the West Seattle reports would have to be almost entirely gunfire without anyone being hit, because even non-fatal shootings have been few and far between around here. It would also have to include suicides. Reviewing our archives, for example (though this is NOT necessarily the same timeline as the stats shown in the PowerPoint), the last three shootings we reported on – NOT counting incidents of gunfire that didn’t hit anyone – were over the span of six months, two suicides (multiple murderer Ian Stawicki in May and one on 16th SW that drew a big initial response in March) and the Morgan Junction murder in January … no non-fatal shootings in that time, but certainly myriad shots fired/shots heard/casings found/etc. type incidents … TR

  • quiz July 12, 2012 (12:02 pm)

    Love this. I think it would be a great deterrent to gun violence.

  • bridge to somewhere July 12, 2012 (12:13 pm)

    Also consider that calls into 911 for “shots fired” may sometimes be fireworks call. There are plenty of times when a firework goes off at night and my spouse asks, “was that a gun?” But having been around rifles and handguns, I can say confidently that they are always fireworks. No doubt many of those calls go into SPD as a possible shot fire.

  • BlairJ July 12, 2012 (12:30 pm)

    I’d like to know the when the reports occurred that these charts are based on. It would also be interesting to see how the hot spots might change from month to month or year to year.

  • Smitty July 12, 2012 (12:38 pm)

    Add this to the west of 35th and north of Fauntleroy “moving to West Seattle” debate…….

    I love heat maps. Try hipmunk for travel if you haven’t already.

    • WSB July 12, 2012 (12:42 pm)

      As I just noted in response to a comment on Twitter … fwiw … WSB HQ is included in the zone here. We’ve been here 19 years, no gunfire. Although I suppose if somebody called 911 about fireworks wondering if they were gunfire, it might have counted. – TR

  • dcn July 12, 2012 (1:46 pm)

    Hopefully this technology can distinguish fireworks from gunfire. Otherwise, the police would spend every evening running down false alarms. There are still nightly post-4th fireworks booms in my neighborhood. Or maybe it really is gunfire, since I live near one of the green mapped areas. Hmm…

  • margaritaville July 12, 2012 (2:08 pm)

    Interesting stuff. Wonder how sensitive is this technology? When utilizing air pistol (per instructions from Seattle Animal Control) to deter raccoons from dining on our koi, will that set off the technology or is it capable of telling the difference between an air pistol spank and a real bullet?

  • anthroman July 12, 2012 (2:35 pm)

    Big Brother is listening…

  • cascadianone July 12, 2012 (2:50 pm)

    This city cannot afford frequent bus service and struggles to fund basic road repair, but we can afford a high-end military counter-sniper system???

    Yes folks, that’s where this technology came from- it’s designed to be mounted on a vehicle or base in conjunction with a turret gun. The system instantly responds to gunfire by rotating the connected gun around to point at the incoming fire so you can shoot back accurately.

    Why buy only half the system? We can just mount some turrets over Rainier Beach and just kill the bastards while we are at it- efficient fascism, the best kind. *sarcasm*

  • ohmygosh July 12, 2012 (2:57 pm)

    Is there a better map out there? I cannot tell where the actual boundaries are.
    I am so sick of big brother so not sure I like this. Hate the drone idea and this is like icing.Good bye privacy. Are we sure all they can hear is gunshots??

    • WSB July 12, 2012 (3:01 pm)

      OMG, if you follow the link to the full presentation,there is a closer map of the WS area that is featured.
      Cascadianone – *To my knowledge* this was represented as a briefing, with, as I wrote, no measure to vote on, no money appropriated at this point, nor official plans to put it into the budget, but this is a hot topic now with elected officials, so anyone that would NOT want to see this happen might consider voicing their opinion … TR

  • vraxvalhalla July 12, 2012 (3:03 pm)

    Unfortunately, these devices pick up much more than just gunfire. Welcome to the techncratic secret police state.

  • bridge to somewhere July 12, 2012 (3:07 pm)

    my point about fireworks was that this vendor said the data was from “calls for shots and weapons,” which I take to mean calls into 911 about shots fired and weapons. That data is likely to include some false alarms, and many from fireworks.

  • Anne July 12, 2012 (3:10 pm)

    I am just trying to figure out why we would spend the money on this system as opposed to hiring more officers. As to being a deterrent(sp?) I don’t see that either-more of a detection system in my my mind.

  • happy to have someone watching July 12, 2012 (3:22 pm)

    If big brother can protect me and my family from the crazies and the hoodlums we have running the neighborhoods of Seattle, then so be it. I would be happy to have this or anything like it. The ones who don’t like it are the ones who have something to hide.

  • happy to have someone watching July 12, 2012 (3:27 pm)

    One of the biggest problems in WS is that no one calls in ‘minor’ incidents (loitering, etc.); therefore when the SW Precinct budgets for officers based on the call volume to 911, there doesn’t appear to be a need for more officers. If you compare our stats to any other part of Seattle, WS has a lot violent (gun shots, burglaries, etc) crimes called into 911, but less actual volume of calls/crimes…in budget season this boils down to less need for officers.

  • Smitty July 12, 2012 (4:10 pm)


    From what I can tell this is money well spent. It narrows down the time of day, location and seasonality of this – which should allow them to be more efficient with fewer resources. Rifle vs a shotgun, if you will.

  • uwdawgfan July 12, 2012 (4:47 pm)

    Here is what some cities don’t get – that the Los Angeles County Sheriffs learned – If you install a sound detection system you need to tie it to a surveillance system so you have evidence of the crime. Detection is one thing but if you can’t prosecute what good is it.

    How it works: Gun shot is detected – The PTZ cameras rotate & zoom to the GPS coordinates of the gun shot and record the crime. Detection is so fast (milliseconds) that the system can record and catch the shooter taking subsequent shots.

    All other cameras in the area (several city blocks around the GPS coordinates of the gun shot) also point that direction to catch the fleeing suspect.

    You Save investigation & prosecution time not to mention DETERRENT.
    Who is going to shoot someone knowing this system is in place.

    Chicago & Boston haven’t learned this lesson yet…

    Crazy thing is:
    Who makes the software that does all this? Leverage Information Systems in Woodinville WA.

    Check out this video

  • WSMom July 12, 2012 (5:06 pm)

    Funny that a few of those areas are in the ‘preferred’ West of 35th North of Thistle

  • Anne July 12, 2012 (5:32 pm)

    Sorry Smitty..still think putting more officers on the street would be a better use of money. Yes they may be able to detect a rifle shot over a pistol shot..but without cameras(as one poster mentioned) I don’t see how it’s better than more manpower.. especially if more of that manpower was on foot patrol.

  • PSPS July 12, 2012 (5:41 pm)

    This idea isn’t new. In fact, it’s been tried in many locations around the world over the past ten years or more. It never works as advertised and is always ultimately disbanded.

    I think this is just the latest idea to shovel taxpayer money to some private corporation, not unlike the new stadium, zip-line, and red light cameras.

  • JoAnne July 12, 2012 (5:55 pm)

    Yes, this is cool technology, but did anyone notice the price?
    It was $40,000 to $60,000 PER square mile, ANNUALLY.
    I thought we were broke!

  • chas redmond July 12, 2012 (9:34 pm)

    West of 35th and north of Thistle is where the Cafe Racer event ended.

  • marcus ativalu July 12, 2012 (9:35 pm)

    i for one am terrified to think that when this thing goes off there where be spd cars fully locked and loaded running around not knowing details or circumstances.
    i live in highland park and would be affected by this and wonder about false positives in the system.
    would you want 10 cops with assult rifles all amped up to pull into your ally and start yelling and screaming orders at you. they would know that shots have been fired thats all. no situational description no victim no warrants
    the spd i know would have no problems destroying our property or tackling and roughing up undserving people i feel
    i really can see them using a ping from this to enter problem properties even with no probable cause

  • eric1 July 12, 2012 (11:38 pm)

    This just another “feel good” policy with no real teeth. Getting teeth for this system would cost a lot more. They should take the 40-60K per square mile and keep a few more criminals in prison. How many of the people who have shot others already have “felon in possession” charges? That should be an automatic 10 years in jail, juvenile or not.
    The crazy driver this weekend was out less than a week before he hit a bunch of cop cars. Just use the money to keep 20 extra criminals in jail and the police would prevent more crimes than this half-baked system.

  • Jeff July 13, 2012 (8:16 am)

    This is pointless. If we want to stop gun crimes, start locking people up instead of just turning them free 4-5 times for illegal possession.

  • atemybuick July 13, 2012 (8:46 am)

    Interesting and expensive system. Here’s an article from a few months back in the NYT. Gives an interesting example from my home town, Milwaukee.

  • LivesInWS July 13, 2012 (9:34 am)

    Followed the link to the company’s PP slides. Text says a Seattle positive is “transparent city leadership.” Hahahaha.

    Also states that less than 20% of gunfire incidents are reported.

    States that incidents get tech and human analysis to determine if gunfire or other cause, i.e., fireworks, before alerts are routed further.

    Hmmmm. Can see pros and cons of the system.

    Nice reporting (as usual), WSB!

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