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Pittsburgh councilman proposes buying audio sensors to detect origin of gunshots

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 3:57 p.m.

Pittsburgh could buy a $150,000 gunshot detection system for high-crime neighborhoods in the East End.

The ShotSpotter system includes acoustic sensors situated on buildings that can pinpoint a gunshot's exact location and automatically send the information to police within seconds. Councilman Ricky Burgess, who introduced legislation Tuesday to authorize the purchase, said he hopes to test the system in neighborhoods such as East Liberty, Homewood and Larimer before expanding its use.

“It's a tool to improve public safety in real time,” Burgess said. “It will allow us to pinpoint any gunshot. It will tell us the caliber, the number of shots, the exact location and speed and direction a shot is traveling.”

Burgess said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. encouraged him to introduce the bill, which Pittsburgh police and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl both support.

Police in other cities, including Wilmington, N.C., and Milwaukee, said ShotSpotter has helped them reduce gun violence.

Cpl. Kevin Smith in Wilmington said the city has been using ShotSpotter since 2011. Gunshots have decreased by 67 percent where the sensors are located, he said.

Detective Christopher Blaszak in Milwaukee said the system, combined with police intelligence, has helped officers solve homicides and reduce gunfire in the streets. It also helps the department pinpoint certain days and hours when gunfire is most prevalent.

“For us its been a very positive thing,” he said.

City Council also considered buying the system in 2007 and 2009, but didn't do so because of the cost.

Assistant Pittsburgh police Chief Maurita Bryant said the department logged 2,048 reports of shots fired last year, 33 percent coming from East End neighborhoods. She said the system would take pressure off residents fearful of calling police.

Burgess also introduced a bill requiring the department to release an abridged version of its policies and procedures, saying it would improve public confidence in police. Public Safety Director Michael Huss and police Chief Nate Harper oppose the bill.

“To publish these policies ... would place our officers in risk of harm,” Harper said in an email.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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