Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to three bills that would pay $1.15 million to set up and operate a system to detect any gunfire in Homewood and report it to police.
The two companies that would be hired to install the pilot program told council that the technology provides a wealth of data to police and aids in capturing and prosecuting criminals, all using a tandem of rooftop microphones and streetlight-mounted cameras.
When a shot is fired, the microphones that detect it immediately send the location of origin to nearby cameras. Then, those cameras turn to the source of the gunfire, with some zooming in and others taking a wider angle. Police and law enforcement officials can use the video in investigations and in court.
Shotspotter, Inc. provides the microphones; the company Avrio RMS Group handles the cameras.
Jack Pontius, Shotspotter Director of Northeast Regional Sales, said the technology is used by 85 cities across the world, including more than 70 in the United States.
Pontius said the gunshot detection system gives officers crucial information they may not have otherwise received.
"Not only do we give them the exact location of where the gunfire or multiple gunfire events, we also provide them with the severity of that event," Pontius said. "If it's more than one shooter, if it's high-powered automatic weapons, if it's shotguns, whatever the case may be, they can respond safely with the appropriate tactical force as well."
If passed by council and the mayor, the system in Pittsburgh would cover an area of roughly three square miles in Homewood, one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods.
Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, a Homewood resident, sponsored the bills. He cited his neighbors' constant fear of gun violence, which he said has already left nine people dead and 12 more wounded in the East End so far this year.
"No one should have to live the way some of the residents in Homewood have to live, by putting their children to play in the basement and putting them in the bathtub to sleep at night," Burgess said. "It should not be that way."
Other council members expressed the desire to have the devices installed within their districts as well. Neither of the companies' representatives could give a cost estimate for a citywide program, but extrapolating on the $1 million cost for three square miles would put the price at roughly $18 million.
Not all council members were supportive of the plan.
Councilman Patrick Dowd called it a distraction from the true problem of having too few officers in Zone 5, where Homewood is located. He said he thinks the system would help catch criminals, but would not do much to stop shootings and deaths.
That notion was contested by Mark Jules, CEO of Avrio RMS Group.
"It's absolutely correct that it is not going to replace the need to have officers," he said. "What it will do is make them more efficient, keep them safer, and be a force multiplier."
The legislation is up for final passage on Tuesday.