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Columbus Police Pilot ShotSpotter System In Hilltop

Deputy Chief Richard Bash, flanked by Mayor Andrew Ginther, explaining the ShotSpotter system.
Nick Evans
Deputy Chief Richard Bash, flanked by Mayor Andrew Ginther, explaining the ShotSpotter system.

Hilltop residents will hear a lot of gunfire Tuesday afternoon, but they won't be in any danger. The practice is meant to calibrate the ShotSpotter system, intended to improve police response to gun violence.

"We've already alerted the community that there will quite a few shots this afternoon,” says Deputy Police Chief Richard Bash. “Each location is going to have anywhere from 30 to 50 shots so that they can get a good baseline to make sure that acoustically we can get a good signature."

Mayor Andrew Ginther has been promising the ShotSpotter system,which uses sound to triangulate where gunshots occur, since early last year. Ginther notes programs in other cities have shown the vast majority of gunfire goes unreported, and the system will help police officers respond more quickly and more accurately.

At police headquarters Tuesday, Bash walked the mayor through what officers will see and hear, using an example from a city in California. The display shows a map and information like how fast the shooter was moving.

“And then they can hear the audio,” Bash says, clicking an icon. Grainy audio begins playing—quickly interrupted by six rapid pops.

“Now that audio sounds like a gunshot, because this is already screened by ShotSpotter before it comes to us,” Bash explains.

Recordings of potential gunfire are routed to analysts in California who confirm the sounds and alert Columbus officers to their location.

Bash insists the system isn’t a replacement for 911, and that officers will need to hear what neighbors saw and heard just as much as ever. But he expects ShotSpotter will help officers drastically reduce response time.

“Well, we can’t say it’s instantaneous, because it goes to California to be screened to make sure we’re not going out on fireworks or backfires from cars, because it picks up all of those,” Bash says. “But it’s going to be much, much quicker. Something inside 60 seconds, and a 911 call takes probably five minutes.”

Once it is up and running, the system will cover three square miles in the Hilltop. Officers aren’t describing the exact territory. Next, they’ll roll out similar devices on the Southside and in Linden.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.