Atlanta police testing new sensors that detect sound of gunshots

ATLANTA — Only Channel 2 Action News has learned that Atlanta Police started using new technology that can detect the sound of gunshots to help police fight crime and keep you safe.

ShotSpotter uses sensors on utility poles and on top of buildings to pick up the sound of gunshots and alert police.

A promotional video explains how the technology works.

“It starts with acoustic sensors that are placed on buildings or on lampposts throughout a neighborhood," the video says.

The sensors are usually hidden, but we obtained video of one in Pittsburgh. They detect and locate gunshots.

“If you have a gunshot, we have different pods around and they alert and so you’ll get an alert to your device. You can get it to your phone. You can have it to the car where the police are,” said Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Lane Hagin, who oversees the ShotSpotter pilot program.

ShotSpotter went online in Atlanta on Tuesday. Right now, there are 100 sensors around Atlanta.

Atlanta Police wouldn’t give us the exact locations of the sensors because they don’t want the bad guys to know. The department did confirm that ShotSpotter is being tested in the Vine City, English Avenue and Atlanta University Center neighborhoods.

“We looked at where we’re having the highest number of shots fired, random gunshots,” Hagin said.

The sensors are not by themselves. There are about 200 existing surveillance cameras in the same areas.

“When we get an alert with ShotSpotter, we want the cameras to turn and get a visual on that location,” Hagin said.

The sensors can pinpoint exactly where gunshots come from and help officers recover evidence.

Some Atlanta residents say they like the idea.

“For me, it’s more better the security for my family,” said Victor Frauoso.

More than 90 cities currently are using ShotSpotter, including Savannah. The University of West Georgia in Carrollton started using the technology in October. Within days, the sensors detected two separate incidents of gunfire off campus. Carrollton Police arrested a man who fired multiple gunshots at a liquor store and a woman who shot at her husband.

In 2014, Charlotte decided not to pay for ShotSpotter after a federal grant expired. Police decided it did not help them make enough arrests.


The ShotSpotter website has a section describing the technology’s results. It cites police in Oakland, California, seeing a 71 percent decrease in gunfire incidents per square mile from 2012 to 2107.

“There haven’t been any studies showing it’s necessarily effective,” said Jeramie Scott, the Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.

“ShotSpotter is a form of Big Brother. The sensors can record conversations,” said Scott.

The technology’s ability to record conversations is a concern for some Atlantans.

“I definitely think it does raise some privacy concerns,” said Cameron Miller.

“Initially, I thought that’s interesting. It might make me feel safer. But then also you think about your own privacy and whether or not people are going to hear things that you say,” said Sarah Davies.

But Atlanta Police say they are focused on detecting gunfire.

“We’re not looking at arguments. We’re not looking at what people say. We’re looking for gunshots,” Hagin said.

Atlanta Police told Channel 2 right now they are studying ShotSpotter's effectiveness. They say they hope to make a decision on the technology in the next six months or so.

The pilot program is being paid for through a public-private partnership with Georgia Power and the Atlanta Police Foundation.

The Atlanta Police Foundation sent us this statement:

“ShotSpotter is one piece of the newest phase of technology to be deployed through our Operation Shield program – an initiative designed to enable smart policing through the use of advanced crime fighting technology.  APF researches best practices in training, operations and technology in order to develop strategic long-term public safety planning for the city of Atlanta. Our fundraising supports these efforts. Our next step with ShotSpotter is to work with APD to ensure that the program is optimized before a broader rollout across the city.

"The Atlanta Police Foundation is a non-profit organization whose goal is to make Atlanta the safest large city in the nation. Through research, fundraising and strategic planning, we focus on ensuring that the Atlanta Police Department in equipped with best-in-class technology, training and equipment all designed to reduce crime and enhance public safety in our city.”

Comments on this article