GRPD considers gunfire detection program again

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department says it’s taking steps toward purchasing a system that had been rejected by the city in the past.

On Tuesday, Chief Eric Payne presented information to the city’s public safety committee on ShotSpotter. It’s a network of sensors and artificial intelligence that claims to accurately detect, locate and alert police to the sound of gunfire.

GRPD says this is a part of their strategic plan to curb a spike in violence linked to the pandemic.

The company behind ShotSpotter says the technology can differentiate between gunshots, fireworks and other similar sounds. The system is designed to allow a quicker response by officers.

“One of the biggest advantages isn’t necessarily going to be response time but narrowing down the location,” said Sgt. Dan Adams with GRPD. “Sometimes, when we get the calls from residents (they’ll say), I heard shots fired, but I’m not really sure which direction they were from.”

The city has considered purchasing the system and declined a few years ago. At that time, the program was going to cost at least $1 million. Police say the current plan would instead use $500,000 worth of COVID relief funds over two years. The money was given to the city by Kent County.

ShotSpotter’s website boasts more than 50% reduction of shooting in several cities it’s currently deployed in. But there has been concern about its accuracy in the past. Back in 2015, News 8 discovered several reports where departments claimed less than 10% accuracy.

GRPD says they believe the technology has since advanced and would be a viable option.

“It’s kind of like an iPhone: a few years ago, anything would be obsolete. Now we’re looking at the latest and greatest version of it. We’re pretty confident that it’ll be an effective tool in Grand Rapids,” said Adams.

Adams says the technology would cover four square miles in two different neighborhoods where violent crime has been prevalent. Department crime analysts would help determine the best locations.

The public safety committee voted to support the program. The city’s fiscal committee now has to take up the issue. It will be presented to them on Nov. 10.

“The key thing is I think this is something that is going to be vital for the city’s use,” said Commissioner Nathaniel Moody, who serves on the public safety committee. “This is to save lives and make the community safe.”

Moody says he and at least two other commissioners are seriously considering ShotSpotters. They say there is still a lot of discussion to be had regarding the system. But if they don’t do anything, the violence will continue.

Two public virtual town halls will be held on Monday and Nov. 5 to get citizen feedback.

Links and exact times will be provided in the coming days.

GRPD says if the city commission decides to go with the technology, the department could roll it out in a matter of months.