Los Angeles

Deputies detect crime as it happens

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Advanced Surveillance and Protection Unit is a trailblazer when it comes to new technology. And now they have a way to detect crime as it happens.

The sheriff's department is listening to catch criminals in the act. They have strategically placed microphones in high-crime areas.

  • ShotSpotter Web site
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Web site
  • "When someone fires a gunshot, rifle or handgun, these microphones will triangulate on the sound and then in live time will show us exactly where that suspect is," said Los Angeles County Sherriff's Deputy Chris Kovac, Advanced Surveillance and Protection Unit.

    The crime-fighting tool is called a "ShotSpotter" and it can pinpoint gunfire often to within a few feet of where the shot was fired.

    "This will actually tell us where the suspect is, if he is in the front yard of a house, or backyard. It's that accurate," said Deputy Kovac.

    Each microphone has four acoustic sensors. The sound of a gunshot hits each sensor at a different time, separated by milliseconds. ShotSpotter analyzes the time it takes for the sound of that gunshot to travel to the various sensors; then, GPS pins down the exact location.

    ShotSpotter is especially helpful in areas where gunfire is so common that people become numb to it, and don't even bother to call 911.

    "We've had numerous cases in which we've actually found victims laying there bleeding from gunshot wounds," said Kovac. "We're able to medically treat them, solely based on this alert. If we wouldn't have been notified via this ShotSpotter system, there's a good chance some of these people would've died," said Kovac.

    According to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, someone was murdered in L.A. County every 29 hours in 2008.

    ShotSpotter was first rolled out by the Century Station in Lynwood, which patrols 13 square miles of southern L.A. County. Murders there are down 40 percent in the past four years. Deputies attribute much of that decrease to ShotSpotter.

    The Advanced Surveillance and Protection Unit is currently working to integrate ShotSpotter with dozens of surveillance cameras.

    "So when the gunshot goes off, cameras near there will automatically turn and look at the person shooting," said Kovac.

    Deputy Kovac says it's almost like having a deputy on every corner.

    "We're not so interested in catching the shooting. What we're interested in is the avenue of escape," said Kovac. "Seeing that suspect leave and being able to detain him after the fact."

    Perhaps most importantly, all this high-tech crime-fighting enhances officer safety by letting deputies know what to expect at a crime scene before they arrive.

    The city of South Gate has just rolled out its own ShotSpotter system. Compton is looking to expand its gunshot detection system. There is even a version created for the military that can be worn by soldiers in combat.


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