Pittsburgh's Contract With ShotSpotter Extended While Negotiating Expansion

Dec 7, 2016

City officials plan to renegotiate a deal with ShotSpotter, which tracks gunfire. It currently picks up gunfire in a 3-mile radius in the city's East End.
Credit ShotSpotter

Pittsburgh City Council has given tentative approval to a contract that would extend the city’s gunfire detection program for a fifth year. 

The deal will act as a place holder while the Department of Public Safety and the Pittsburgh Housing Authority negotiate a deal to expand the ShotSpotter program from its current 3 square miles in the East End.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told council members he had hopped to have the deal in place to include the Hill District, the North Side and portions of the West End before the end of the year. He said it now looks like very early 2017 is more realistic.

The city contracts with California-based ShotSpotter to rent microphones and other equipment. The company also manages the system that detects shots, triangulates their location and then sends that information to police.

“You hear shots and almost before you can get to your phone, you hear sirens,” Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross said. “That was not true living in Bloomfield outside the ShotSpotter territory...  You had to run, you had to get your phone, you had to make the call, you had to wait and then you heard the sirens. There could be a 10 minute lapse.”

However, City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said during a council meeting Wednesday she has concerns over the effectiveness of the system.

“I think it’s a lot of money and it’s not preventive and so I’d like to know how we’re stopping someone from ever being shot in the first place,” Kail-Smith said. “I’d like to see all this money going into, maybe, prevention programs.”

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said he believes this is the best use of the $135,000 requested for the annual contract.

“It’s a tool in the tool box and we’ve had a lot of success with it," he said. "And if you can get a gun off the street or if you get the individual off the street you can prevent further shootings.”

Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Linda Barone told council the system detected 69 gunshots in November of 2017, some of which were never reported to 911.

“We have a number of instances where we found the person who was shot, on the ground, unable to call the police or the paramedics,” Barone said.

Department of Public Safety Assistant Director Michael Huss said ShotSpotter is very useful even when there are calls to 911.

“Gun shots are very hard to ascertain where they’re coming from because they echo off of buildings and things… so you’re getting multiple callers, telling you multiple different locations and then it’s up to the responding officers to try to figure out where the shots actually came from,” Huss said.

Hissrich said the next step would be to link city and Housing Authority-owned cameras to the system to allow it to automatically turn cameras in the direction of the gunfire.

The preliminary vote on the contract extension passed unanimously. It will come up for a final vote Tuesday.