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Glendale police pinpoint gunfire with technology

Since 2002, Glendale Police Department has contracted with ShotSpotter, a technology company that pinpoints where a gunshot was fired.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Celebratory gunfire during the holiday season is nothing new for the Valley, but one law enforcement agency is cracking down to try and put an end to the dangerous practice.

Since 2002, Glendale Police Department has contracted with California-based ShotSpotter, a technology company that pinpoints where a gunshot was fired from and alerts police dispatch.

Often police must rely on neighbors calling in a gunshot with no exact location. ShotSpotter not only pinpoints the location but factors out sounds like fireworks. 

So far, Glendale is the only city in the state to use this technology.

“It allows patrol officers or detectives to go out and pick up actual evidence of gunfire,” said Detective Brian Piech of the Glendale Police Department.

A series of sensors were placed around the City of Glendale. They pick up noises similar to gunshots. A technician in California analyzes the sound to determine if it is a gunshot or another similar sound. Once it has been established that the sound is a gunshot, the triangulated location and sound file are sent to Glendale police dispatch. All this takes less than one minute.

“They [officers] can actually use their cell phones, if they have the ShotSpotter Respond App, and get an actual map of where the gunfire took place,” Detective Piech explained.

The system gets quite the workout on New Year’s Eve, picking up 15 confirmed gunshots last year. This year, Glendale Police plan to send detectives to investigate every confirmed gunshot that the system picks up.

“We can collect that ground evidence and use other scientific methods to connect those [guns] to maybe other shootings that have taken place that night, or the City of Phoenix or other parts of the Valley,” Detective Piech said.

The New Year’s sweep will have two goals. One is to use evidence found at the site of a gunshot call to solve an unsolved crime. The other goal is to persuade those thinking about firing their gun in the air to think twice.

“In Glendale, we don’t want you shooting guns for New Year’s Eve. What goes up must come down,” Detective Piech warned.

The city contracted with ShotSpotter shortly after a 14-year-old girl, Shannon Smith, was struck and killed by a stray bullet fired on New Year's Eve, 1999. A law, named Shannon’s Law, was later passed making firing a gun within city limits a felony in the girl’s honor. To this day, law enforcement agencies around the Valley try to prevent another tragedy like what happened to Smith to be repeated.