Durham, NC – Gunshot detectors will be installed in parts of Durham this month.
The controversial technology, called ShotSpotter, is used in more than 100 cities across the country. It’s designed to help the city identify and deploy police in an area where gunshots have been heard — even if no 911 calls have been made.
WRAL Investigates spoke to researchers who have worked with ShotSpotter technology for years and the Winston-Salem Police Department who use it every day.
Data from Durham Police shows there have been more than 400 shootings in Bull City this year.
In the city of Winston-Salem, residents hear gunshots hundreds of times a year. The guides there decided to try ShotSpotter.
“I was skeptical at first, I’ll admit that,” said Capt. Amy Gauldin who oversees the ShotSpotter program for the Winston Salem Police Department.
Sensors that would detect a shot being fired and pinpoint its location were something Gauldin could never have imagined when she started as a patrol officer more than 20 years ago.
“This is new to everyone,” Gauldin said. “We hesitated, I think, to see how it worked.”
Now that Gauldin has seen it in action, the hesitation is gone.
“It allows us to get there faster, and getting there faster saves lives,” Gauldin said. “It identifies witnesses and increases the number of witnesses we may be able to contact to help solve this crime.”
Gauldin recalls an incident in which a man was shot.
Nobody ever called 911, but officers were dispatched because of ShotSpotter and he survived.
“It’s worth it,” Gauldin said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Academic Studies on ShotSpotter Technology
Similar success stories have Dr. Anna Goldenberg-Sandau.
“We just saw one shot at a time,” Goldenberg-Sandau said of the patients she treats as a trauma surgeon in Camden, New Jersey.
Around 2013, she noticed that after being shot, patients were arriving at the hospital faster than before.
“We couldn’t figure out how they got in, why they got in so fast, and that’s how I got the idea from ShotSpotter,” Goldenberg-Sandau said.
Goldenberg-Sandau said he studied data for years and then published a scientific article in 2019. He credits ShotSpotter with improving response times. She said it was critical to a patient’s chances of survival.
Not all studies of the technology have been favorable, however. Mitch Doucette, an assistant scientist in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University, published a study last year that found cities using ShotSpotter saw no decrease in homicides.
“We found that statistically, there was no significant reduction in violence,” Doucette said.
Doucette explained the other findings.
“We also found that things like gun-related arrests and homicide detection rates were also unaffected by the implementation of the technology,” Doucette said.
Both Goldenberg-Sandau and Doucette agree that more research is needed on ShotSpotter, and they are doing so.
Police department investigation into ShotSpotter
Meanwhile, police departments conduct their own informal day-to-day research at work.
Gauldin said while she understands hesitation, the people of Durham should keep an open mind.
“I think it’s up to any agency that implements ShotSpotter to evaluate that balance and determine the value of that to the community,” Gauldin said. “But so far it has been an advantage for us.”
These are the five North Carolina cities that ShotSpotter currently has.
Charlotte used to have ShotSpotter but got rid of it in 2016. City officials said they would decide whether to get it back.