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Aurora PD shows interest in gunshot detection technology for the city

Other cities, including Denver, have installed ShotSpotter, which can detect gunfire and identify a location for officers.

AURORA, Colo. — During a committee meeting with city council members last week, Aurora police expressed interest in a gunshot detection software called ShotSpotter. The technology, which has faced criticism, can detect and verify gunshots and provide a location within 25 meters.

The interest comes as police in Aurora are responding to more shootings than before the pandemic. People reported more than 2,200 incidents of shots fired between May 2021 and April 2022, according to the presentation last week. That is roughly 1,000 more incidents than two years earlier. 

The number of people getting shot is also going up. The Aurora Police Department said that's one reason why they're asking the council to consider purchasing this technology. They believe it will bolster crime-fighting efforts.

"ShotSpotter is very expensive. If properly used, it is very effective," Interim Police Chief Dan Oates said.

Oates, who did consulting work for police departments that used this technology, said there is value in spending the money as an alternative to cameras and license plate readers if the implementation is done well.

"Before we take the plunge with ShotSpotter, we would want to look at areas of the city and make a determination as to whether we want more cameras and license plate readers versus ShotSpotter," he said. "We would have to do some sort of analysis."

The idea was only proposed in Aurora last week. No vote has taken place.

There has been some criticism of ShotSpotter in the past. An investigation by the Associated Press found the system can miss live gunfire, and misclassify sounds of fireworks and cars backfiring as gunshots.

The Denver Police Department began using the system in 2015.

Before Denver approved a new five-year, nearly $5 million contract with ShotSpotter in January, some expressed concerns during a city council public comment session. 

Some wanted to see money spent on mental health services instead.

DeRay Mckesson, a civil rights activist, said at the meeting that he was worried because the company does not allow a third-party vendor to validate its technology. 

"We have not seen any public data about Denver’s false positive rates, and that’s important,” Mckesson said. “This does not decrease gun violence. This doesn’t actually help interrupt crime.”

DPD Division Chief Ron Thomas has said every sound is reviewed by employees of ShotSpotter to verify if the noise came from a gun, rather than a firework or a car backfiring. He said the accuracy is between 94% and 97%.

According to DPD, ShotSpotter led to 68 arrests in 2018 and 94 arrests in 2021.

"There is a lot of investigative work that goes into making sure that that person is the one who fired the gun," Thomas said in January. "There’s gunshot residue tests done on that individual to make sure they in fact fired the gun, ballistic comparisons made between the shell casings recovered and the weapon that person has in their possession."

Greggory LaBerge with Denver's Crime Lab also spoke during public comment to support the new contract with ShotSpotter. He is responsible for crime scene operations such as DNA, fingerprints and video processing.

He said shell casings are entered into a database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which can be searched across the city to link shootings together. According to LaBerge, there has been a more than 400% increase in matches on NIBIN since 2015, mainly due to ShotSpotter.

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