After posting my Week in Review column earlier today, a reader named Joe left the following comment:
About a decade ago Ed Davis wanted to bring the shot spotter gunshot detection system to Lowell. I forget the reason but it never materialized. This week I watched councilors Belanger and Rourke have a discussion on the council floor about bringing shot spotter to Lowell. Gun violence in the city was the number one issue during the election. Bringing this system to Lowell is a really really big deal. Yet I have not seen or read a word about it all week. Nothing. Not in the paper,not on the radio and not in the blogs. Here is my prediction. On Tuesday Rita Mercier will say something about the massage parlor that will anger certain people in this city. Then those people will respond by claiming this council is a joke focused on petty issues. Meanwhile the single most important issues in the city will be sitting in a corner waiting for its turn.
Joe made a very good point. It was Councilor Dan Rourke who made the motion to investigate bringing ShotSpotter to the city. The motion was quickly endorsed by the council in the way that most routine motions are and then the issue disappeared from our collective radar. As Joe points out, too often we focus the bulk of our attention on council matters that tend towards the trivial and let the really important things slide by without comment. As Joe also points out, violence and how to deal with it was the dominate issue in the past city election and this technology could be a valuable tool in the city’s crime fighting strategy.
So what is Shotspotter? It’s technology that uses multiple microphones to locate gunshots in a certain geographic area. It’s not really new: “sound ranging” units were used by the military as early as World War One to locate enemy artillery. The diagram below illustrates how multiple microphones use “triangulation” to locate the gun:
The use of this technology in modern police work is not new either. The following is a TV news report from three years ago when New Bedford first installed its ShotSpotter system:
Boston has the system and Worcester decided to install it just last November. Here’s an article about the Worcester decision (thanks to reader JoeS for providing a link to the article). As useful as the system might be in dealing with gun violence in Lowell, it doesn’t come cheaply. The Worcester system that covers a 6 square mile area with microphones and integrated video cameras will cost nearly $1 million to install. Unless a Federal grant magically appears, will the Lowell City Council decide to spend even a fraction of that on new technology? That will certainly be a debate that deserves our close attention.