Community

The Louisville Metro Police Department’s newest tool to combat gun violence takes officers to more shooting scenes but yields few gun-related arrests. That’s according to information shared by police leaders during a news conference Wednesday at the city’s Real Time Crime Center in downtown Louisville.

The center serves as a hub where civilian employees monitor more than 200 cameras and an undisclosed number of gunshot detection sensors to assist officers in tracking and responding to crime.

Police officials recently finalized a $1.2 million contract for the gunshot detection system, records show. The Shotspotter system incorporates an array of auditory sensors across the city that alert police when a blast of gunfire is detected.

Since the system’s activation two weeks ago, it has alerted police to 89 shootings and one gun-related arrest, said police Major Josh Judah.

A police spokeswoman refused to provide a copy of the arrest report, however, citing an exemption in state open records law related to juveniles.

The Shotspotter system has been criticized nationally for it’s inability to yield arrests related to the gunfire it detects.

The lack of gun-related arrests led some cities, including Charlotte, to cancel their subscription to the service and opt instead to invest in more surveillance cameras, according to a report from the investigative news outlet Reveal.

And in San Francisco, the system alerted police to more than 4,300 shooting incidents during a two-year span and yielded two arrests — only one of which was gun-related, according to a report from Forbes.

Thousands of other alerts in cities like Kansas City and Milwaukee were “unfounded” or officers were unable to locate evidence of a shooting or a suspect, according to the report.

Maj. Judah, in Louisville, said oftentimes “shooters aren’t standing around after shots are fired.”

And judging the efficacy of Shotspotter on arrests, alone, isn’t the measure, he said.

“The value of Shotspotter really is for investigations after the fact and community engagement,” Judah said.

‘It’s nothing new’

This year, police have recorded more than 145 shooting incidents, according to police data through the end of April. This data is the most readily available information on the department’s website. More than 30 of those shootings have been fatal.

The number of shootings recorded so far this year is nearly on pace with last year — which ended with more than 500 shooting incidents, the most since at least 2012, police data show.

Judah said oftentimes police don’t respond to every shooting because residents fail to alert police when they hear gunfire. He said “many” of the 89 Shotspotter alerts so far weren’t reported to the police by citizens, but he could not say just how many went unreported.

The sensors in Louisville are affixed to utility poles and buildings and cover roughly six square miles, Judah said. Just where the sensors are, however, is a secret.

“We don’t want to give away the tactical advantage that it does provide us by letting people know exactly where they are going to be monitored,” Judah said.

Some residents in areas plagued by gunfire are skeptical of the technology.

Steve Harris lives in Beecher Terrace, a public housing complex in Russell beset by crime and violence. Harris thinks sensors on poles will do little to quell gun violence near his home. He said cameras have been keeping watch over the block for years — and little has changed.

“It’s nothing new,” he told WFPL News in an interview outside his home last month.

The prevalence of cameras is also growing in Louisville.

To date, Louisville Metro government operates some 200 cameras across the city, said Jennifer Corum, director of the Real Time Crime Center. More will be added in the coming weeks, she said.

The cameras are all affixed to public infrastructure and are directed towards public spaces — places where citizens have no expectation of privacy, she said.

Civil liberties advocates have expressed concern that the rise of public surveillance could have a chilling effect on public life.

The American Civil Liberties Union notes that “when citizens are being watched by the authorities — or aware they might be watched at any time — they are more self-conscious and less free-wheeling.”

Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad had little concern about this when asked Wednesday.

“We have a responsibility to do what we can to maintain the safety of people in the public,” he said.

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.