Scoop: Gunshot detection system goes live in Richmond
A gunshot detection system is set to go online today across a swath of downtown Richmond.
What's happening: ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors atop buildings and light poles to listen for gunfire, triangulate its location and deliver real-time reports to police.
- The system going live today covers VCU's medical campus downtown as well as Capitol Square and the state-owned office buildings that surround it, VCU Police told Axios.
- The university quietly rolled out technology on its main campus surrounding Monroe Park at the end of last year, according to the department.
Why it matters: It's the latest example of police in Richmond turning to high-tech solutions to address crime.
- All that new surveillance technology, including dozens of new license plate readers, has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups and privacy advocates.
What they're saying: "If a gunshot is fired in close proximity to VCU, I want to be made aware of that as soon as possible," VCU police chief John Venuti told Axios.
By the numbers: VCU signed a three-year contract with ShotSpotter at a cost of $148,500, according to documents provided by the university.
Zoom out: The city has been considering buying its own gunshot detection system for the better part of a decade.
- Interim police chief Rick Edwards floated the possibility again at the beginning of the year, but the department now says those plans are on hold.
- Instead, the city is planning to expand its new fleet of 36 app-connected license plate readers, per chief administrative officer Lincoln Saunders.
- He said the tech has already helped officers make arrests in high-profile crimes, including a recent shooting death on Broad Street.
Yes, but: Critics of the new surveillance technology point to accuracy issues and invasion of privacy.
- The ACLU argues the license plate reader vendor used by the city, Flock, has developed what amounts to "a system of mass surveillance."
- And ShotSpotter is the subject of a nationwide campaign to get departments to ditch the technology, which activists claim is often inaccurate and has not been proven to reduce serious violent crime — claims the company vigorously denies.
The other side: At VCU, Venuti said he was aware of the criticism surrounding ShotSpotter, but so far has been pleased with the technology's performance on campus.
- So far, he said the system generated one alert, which he said allowed officers to distribute a campus-wide alert and respond to the scene in "less than a minute."
- The response did not turn up any suspects, but he said officers recovered shell casings, validating the report.
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