Mar 15, 2023 - News

Scoop: Gunshot detection system goes live in Richmond

Illustration of a collage featuring a handgun, a street light and circular lines.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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.

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.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Richmond stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Richmond.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more