Spotting crime on the Hilltop

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By Josh Jordan
Staff Writer

A new high-tech system has been installed in the Hilltop to keep the neighborhood safer.

ShotSpotter is the latest tool for the Columbus Police Department to detect gunshots and dispatch police to the site within a few minutes.

“There are sensors throughout the neighborhood,” said Robin Davis, director of media relations for the city of Columbus. “The sensors pick up gunfire. It is able to be detected differently than cars backfiring or fireworks. Then it’s transmitted to a place in California where live human beings listen to it so they can also make those distinctions. Then it’s sent back into the dispatch system where the officers are notified.”

According to the ShotSpotter company website, over 90 percent of gunfire within the systems zone will be detected and located within 60 seconds of the incident. This will lead to greatly improved response times.

“Right now, I’ve got police officers 100 percent dedicated to responding to the alerts,” said Deputy Chief Richard Bash of the Columbus Police Department. “They are not tied up on anything else. As soon as the alert goes off, they are in the area and they respond.”

The three areas of the city that were chosen for the installation of the system are the Hilltop, Linden and south side. One of the reasons the Hilltop was chosen, other than the higher concentration of gunfire compared to other neighborhoods, was the inability or unwillingness of residents to report the shootings.

“For every one (shooting) that we do respond to, there are many that aren’t even called in,” said Sergeant Chantay Boxill of the Columbus Police Department. “I think that the city is employing this to try to get these people who are out there shooting, even though they are not being reported.”

The system isn’t just a response driven mechanism, it will also be used to better understand the shootings and help police combat shooting hot spots in the future.

“That will allow us to deploy personnel to specific areas of the Hilltop, not just general areas,” said Bash. “In the long run, what we want to do is reduce the amount of shootings on the Hilltop. We can do that, hopefully, by getting more illegal guns off the street.”

The ShotSpotter has had incredible success in reducing crimes in other major cities across the United States, including Cincinnati, Ohio where violent crimes were reduced by 40 percent.

However, Columbus Police want to let people know that the new system is not all that is necessary to bring these drastic changes to Columbus and the Hilltop.

“ShotSpotter does not replace 911. Please continue to call every time you hear a shot,” said Bash. “Residents have to be equal partners in the safety of our community. Being willing to tell us what you see, what you hear, what you know is extraordinarily important. Encouraging your neighbors to be part of the solution as well, not to be afraid to tell us who’s firing the shots or the car that was there or even who these people were shooting at.”

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