Smart Roofs To Help NYC Cops Fight Crime

Commissioner Bill Bratton wants to use urban infrastructure as a new form of surveillance.

Smart Roofs To Help NYC Cops Fight Crime

The murder rate in New York City is lower than ever, but in public housing projects, shootings are up 32%. In addition to flooding those areas with additional police officers, New York Police Department commissioner Bill Bratton is taking a creative approach to quelling the violence.

Bratton is launching a two-year, $1.5 million pilot program to install microphone-based rooftop sensors in select locations. ShotSpotter, which makes the sensors, aims to help police work more effectively by providing data on gunfire incidents, many of which go unreported. According to ShotSpotter, there are 100 shootings for every homicide committed with a gun.

The sensors use triangulation to pinpoint the location of a gunshot in real-time. Analysts can then separate noise like firework explosions from the recorded data, and ultimately–hopefully–make police deployment more effective over time.

Some are skeptical. “Shots fired is a pretty common technology now,” Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former police officer, told the NY Daily News after Bratton first floated the concept at a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee in May. “It can detect a shot, but the problem is having the cops get to the scene. I’ve yet to see that the technology is bringing a lot of people to justice.”

Plus, there’s the pesky problem of tampering. By design, there are no images of ShotSpotter’s sensors on the company website, in order to prevent the devices–roughly the size of an Internet router–from being identified and turned into target practice.

Bratton, in contrast, is on the record as supportive of the sensors–he previously served on ShotSpotter’s board of directors–as well as surveillance technologies like drones. “It’s something that we actively keep looking at and stay aware of,” he told the City Council.

In the end, the data will tell the story. Shootings so far in 2014: 562 and counting, up from 514 over the same time period last year.

About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.



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