From next month, when someone pulls a gun in East or South East Durham, someone – or something – will listen.
The city is installing audio sensors in September from ShotSpotter. The California-based company has sold bullet surveillance systems to more than 120 cities over the past 25 years.
The sensors will cover three square miles, or around 2.7% of the city, south of East Geer Street and separated by the Durham Freeway.
The area borders but does not include the campuses of NC Central University and Durham Technical Community College. It includes the McDougald Terrace housing community and the Fayette Place area in historic Hayti which the Durham Housing Authority intends to redevelop.
“Gunfires in and around the community are a constant complaint,” DHA spokeswoman Aalayah Sanders wrote in an email to The News & Observer.
“I constantly ask if this has been reported to the police, and the answer is often no,” she said. “The main reason given is that by the time the police arrived the gunfire had stopped and they could not identify where the gunshots were coming from.”
Some parts of the surveillance zone are already monitored. “DHA has cameras in some communities,” Sanders wrote. A 2020 convention with the city references the communities of McDougald Terrace, Hoover Road and Damar Court.
Alexis Cox, who lives in the coverage area, heard that ShotSpotter was coming through word of mouth.
“Everybody knows that,” said Cox, a mother of two. “It’s already public.”
Residents surveyed support the new crime-fighting programs. They weren’t sure if Shotspotter was one of them.
ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors to detect probable gunshots.
Each sensor has a range of 25 to 50 feet, and 20 to 25 sensors are placed per square mile, The N&O previously reported.
A shot can trigger two to 30 sensors, which identify the noise and determine if it might be a gunshot.
If sensors classify a sound as a gunshot, employees examine the sound. If they agree, the system will alert the Durham 911 call center and Durham police laptops. The process takes 30-60 seconds.
The coverage area is where the most shots in Durham have been reported from 2019 to 2021, including almost 34% of reports of someone being shot, according to the city’s ShotSpotter information page.
Quintino Brooks, 34, thinks the sensors could help with shootings that otherwise go unreported.
“People can know what’s going on…that [police] I didn’t even have any evidence,” said Brooks, who lives in the southeast part of the coverage area.
As of August 6, Durham Police had investigated 453 shootings this year, with 140 people shot, 23 fatally, according to the police department’s website.
A controversial program
Adilene Alanis, 18, a graduate of Riverside High School, supports the use of Shotspotter to dispatch ambulances to possible shootings, “in case people get hurt.”
She is skeptical about sending police.
Her sister Leslie Alanis, 23, a recent UNC graduate, worries that officers responding to an alert could endanger bystanders, especially gun owners.
“If a civilian is just carrying a gun and they have all the legal permits, it’s a bit worrying that the police could come and get that person and maybe put them in danger,” she said. .
Durham, primarily at the request of current Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, has been talking about Shotspotter since 2015. The 2022-23 city budget includes $197,500 for a one-year trial.
Middleton worries that residents of high-crime neighborhoods are getting used to living with frequent gunfire and not calling them, The N&O reported in June.
Cox, 37, lived in the Few Gardens housing project in Durham before it was demolished in 2003 and said gun violence was a daily occurrence.
“That was all we had there,” Cox said. “I’ve stayed in other parts of Durham where there was also a lot of shooting. My brother has already been shot.
Now she hopes ShotSpotter will allow her children, aged 5 and 6, to play safely outside.
“Maybe they can catch a few more shootings and things that are not good for the kids and for the neighborhood,” she said.
City Council members Jillian Johnson and Javiera Caballero voted against the pilot program.
Johnston said dispatching officers to respond to sensors could lead to excessive police surveillance and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk searches in communities of color, The N&O previously reported.
At a community forum in June, however, Middleton argued that ShotSpotter could discourage racially motivated 911 calls because the technology doesn’t use cameras.
Does ShotSpotter work?
An Associated Press investigation published in March found ShotSpotter sensors misclassified fireworks and rolling cars as gunshots.
The AP also found ShotSpotter employees have altered sensor recordings to change the location or number of shots fired, at the request of their customer police departments. The altered recordings were later submitted as evidence in court to make claims regarding the shots fired by the defendants.
ShotSpotter sensors have already been installed in Wake Forest, Winston-Salem and Greenville.
In Greenville, reports of gunshots have declined since the implementation of ShotSpotter, The N&O reported. Meanwhile, Charlotte stopped her ShotSpotter program in 2016, although the sensors may return.
At the time, the city cited lack of impact. ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark told The Charlotte Observer in 2016 that the technology was placed in an area that already had a low crime rate and was therefore not being used as intended.
“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is currently in discussions with representatives of ShotSpotter to determine the impact of reintroducing the technology to our community,” department spokeswoman Amanda Aycock told The N&O in an e-mail. -mail.
Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews declined to comment on the story, as did Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal.
If sensors reduce shooting, Cox hopes his neighbors will feel safer in parks and other outdoor spaces.
“Less violence, more activity for the community,” Cox said.
For Leslie Alanis, an increased police response does not necessarily guarantee a safer Durham.
“We regularly hear gunshots from my house,” she said. “We regularly hear police cars from my house. Neither makes me feel safe. So honestly, they cancel each other out.
ShotSpotter will go live at the end of September with sensors on public buildings, streetlights and telephone poles.
This fall, the police will partner with Duke University to study the effectiveness of the program. The results will be published on a data dashboard posted on the city’s website.
The Durham Police Service will hold meetings to answer questions community members, including Partners Against Crime groups.
The department also plans to meet with Durham Businesses Against Crime and residents of McDougald Terrace. The dates for these have yet to be announced.
This story was originally published August 17, 2022 12:41 p.m.