Police chief talks gunshot detection, Tasers

By Jim Hagerty

CITY HALL — If the technology lives up to its claim, the Rockford Police Department will soon have the ability to pinpoint the location of gunshots.

On Monday, aldermen voted to spend $310,000 on a gunfire detection system called ShotSpotter, a series of sensors that alert 911 dispatchers and officers when they detect gunfire.

“[The system] guarantees detection within 75 feet of a gunshot going off,” Police Chief Dan O’Shea said after Monday’s City Council meeting.

Chief O’Shea added that other agencies that use the system have reported detection as close as 10 feet, meaning officers are able to find near-exact locations where shots are fired. In Rockford, initial sensors will be placed in a two-mile area on the east side and a two-mile area on the west side.

The system’s sensors are acoustic listening devices that are always running. They are set to detect frequencies of gunshots but no other sounds, such as nearby conversations. O’Shea said while the system will improve response times, it will also increase the number of reports, which will undoubtedly show a spike in shots-fired incidents.

“We expect to see a 75- to 85-percent increase in reported gunfire crime,” O’Shea said. “But I will make sure that we put that out to media and residents. It needs to be known way ahead of time why there’s an exponential increase.”

The agreement with ShotSpotter is for one year. The city will have an option to renew the service for an annual cost of $260,000.

The ShotSpotter system works by having a series of acoustic listening devices tracking the frequencies of gunshots in an area. By using information from multiple collection points, police can more accurately pinpoint the location the shots were fired.

“This will help us with investigations, and give us a more accurate picture of gunfire,” O’Shea said.

Installation is expected to begin in the next couple weeks. The service will be funded by the Police Operating Budget.

Aldermen also agreed to use $42,000 from the police budget to purchase 30 Tasers from Axon Enterprises, of Scottsdale, Arizona. The purchase will bring the department’s number of devices to 85.

O’Shea said that is enough for every on-duty officer to carry a stun gun, provided they receive the proper training. It also gives the department another less-lethal option in situations that call for the use of force.

“Our message is that our officers are highly trained in using little force as possible,” the chief said. “In the year-and-a-half I’ve been here, I’ve been very pleased with how our officers respond to violence and how they de-escalate a lot of situations.”

O’Shea says that training and additional stun guns will also improve perception citizens may have that law enforcement is in the business of using lethal force. And with the number of public cases involving alleged police brutality and officer-involvement shootings ample in the news, the devices couldn’t come at a better time.

“That’s why I am out in the community,” he said. “We don’t want the perception to run reality. We want people to understand what we are doing.”

The Rockford City Council meets on the first and third Monday of every month. Council committee meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday at City Hall. R.

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