VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – ShotSpotter is technology that detects the sound of gunshots.
Police departments that use the technology, including Virginia Beach, get a message in less than 60 seconds. Newport News also uses ShotSpotter technology.
“The alert allows us to go and hopefully apprehend the offender,” said Capt. William Zelms, commander of the Virginia Beach Police Training Bureau. “Find and preserve evidence and, importantly, provide assistance to potential victims.”
ShotSpotter’s Incident Review Center acts as an intermediary to ensure that the sound is indeed gunfire and not something like fireworks.
“It’s checked by human ears and checked for gunshots and then sent to our responding officer,” Zelms said.
He said only one in five shootings are reported across the country.
ShotSpotter technology tries to put officers in the right places.
“We need to be where the fire is. These sensors allow us to respond to those communities that we know for sure have been affected by gun violence,” Zelms said.
The technology was implemented in Virginia Beach after a series of shooting incidents at the police department in early 2021.
Zelms said city officials asked what tools they needed. ShotSpotter was on the list.
“The return on that investment through the number of alerts we’re getting, we wouldn’t have been able to get before,” Zelms said. “The number of arrests and the amount of weapons and ballistics evidence we’ve recovered is priceless.”
Now the technology is present around the oceanfront and in the western part of the city.
Zelms said Virginia Beach police hope to expand to a third coverage area.
Coverage areas are selected based on crime statistics.
“This technology is only for criminals who deal with firearms,” Zelms said. “It is not directed at any other community. It is based on demonstrable facts.”
The technology has led to a total of 37 arrests – seven this year.
In 2023, police have already received almost 50 reports of shootings.
Zelms said ShotSpotter has allowed them to take violent criminals off the streets.
“Every time we take a criminal off the street, it makes our community safer,” Zelms said. “It lets them know that we will be responsible for holding them accountable for their actions. Anyone who is willing to recklessly fire a firearm across the city indiscriminately, without regard for the people around them, should know that they will be held accountable for that,” he said.
Zelms said it’s just one tool the police department uses to fight gun violence.
He said they still need the community’s help.
Zelms recommends that anyone who hears gunshots call 911, even if ShotSpotter technology is available in your area.