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Sounds of gunshots traumatize neighborhoods: ‘ShotSpotter’ CEO


(NEW YORK) — With gun violence on the rise across the country, the trauma extends beyond those hit with bullets to entire neighborhoods suffering the sounds of gunshots, according to a crime prevention company executive.

“Just because someone doesn’t get hurt or killed by a bullet, just going to bed to the sound of gunfire, waking up to the sound of gunfire, assuming the risk of moving around a neighborhood that has being held captive by a few criminal serial shooters completely rewires the way, especially in young children, how their brain works,” ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

ShotSpotter is known for their acoustic gunshot technology, which takes “pops, booms and bangs,” from sensors posted around a neighborhood or city and triangulates timestamps, and pushes an alert out to police departments within 45 seconds of the trigger being pulled exactly where the shooting took place, Clark explained.

Ten people were shot over the weekend in the New York City borough of Queens and New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea told ABC News the city saw a 73% increase in shootings in May 2021 when compared to the same time last year.

“The real cost is, is the trauma, and the emotional trauma and the mother that lives on that block and now won’t send our kids outside because she knows every night there’s gunfire,” Shea explained in an interview last week.

Children who see gun violence or are victims of gun violence experience trauma over and over again, Dr. Eraina Schauss, director of the BRAIN Center at the University of Memphis, told ABC News.

“Kids who have been shot, their body is in such shock there’s just such fear,” Schauss explained. “They’re afraid to do anything. Some of the kids are catatonic, meaning they have a hard time speaking they have they have a hard time just doing daily tasks. They’re reliving that moment and their body is still in that trauma.”

Strauss treats children immediately after they have been shot in Memphis, not for physical wounds but for mental health. She explained that children who have witnessed shootings have a difficult time expressing their feelings in some cases and doctors at the BRAIN Center identify manageable ways they are able to cope with seeing their friend or loved one shot.

“There’s that feeling when you feel like there’s no control in your environment, and you can’t control your situation and things feel hopeless. You know that something that we perpetuate that cycle of violence, just because it’s all driven by fear, it’s a fear reaction,” she said.

As for investigating shootings in New York, Shea said ShotSpotter is an immensely helpful tool.

“Even if we don’t find the casings, we’ll have the video on the block. And we’ll see the person who were they with? What color was there? Who were they arguing with? Countless countless times it helps and puts a narrative to a story where without it, you would have literally nothing, it’s very hard to search all of New York City, but when it when when it allows you to start zeroing down, that’s where and then there’s a lot of other benefits in terms of actually recovering ballistics,” he said.

Clark said the technology is useful even if police do not make an arrest on the day the shooting occurred.

“If they’re not dealing with the perpetrator or aiding a victim, they’re much more likely to be able to recover physical forensic evidence in the form of shell casings as well as interview witnesses. Right. And that’s critically important to follow on investigation around who might have been involved in that shooting. So, although you might not put cuffs on the perpetrator at that point in time, oftentimes they link critical clues about who they were,” he explained.

“Twenty percent causing 80 percent,” Clark said, quoting Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who explained that roughly 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. “We know at least in Oakland, there was at least 100 times where officers, through a ShotSpotter alert, were able to get to that location and find a victim and basically apply life saving measures to save a persons.”

Critics say however that ShotSpotter disproportionally targets African-Americans, especially in a city like Chicago.

“High-tech tools can create a false justification for the broken status quo of policing and can end up exacerbating existing racial disparities,” Jonathan Manes, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law said. “We needed to know whether this system actually does what it claims to do. It does not.”

Manes studied the ShotSpotter technology and found that 89% turned up no gun-related crime and 86% led to no report of any crime at all.

“This system puts police on high alert and sends them racing into communities; but almost nine times of our ten, the police don’t turn up evidence of gun crime or any crime at all. It creates a powderkeg situation for residents who just happen to be in the vicinity of a false alert.”

The CEO said the technology is 97% effective and in 2020, the company published 240,000 gunshot alerts to police departments around the country who purchase their technology.

Often times, Clark said it is not the first time a gun has been used in a shooting.

“Does anyone really believe that that’s the first time that that gun has been fired,” he asked. “That homicide, that gun that was used in that homicide has been fired before that homicide and is likely to continue to be fired after that homicide if, in fact, there isn’t some kind of organized intervention.”

ShotSpotter is not a one-size-fits-all approach to curbing gun violence, Clark explained, saying that the technology is another tool in their tool belt.

“What we believe is that when a police department takes a comprehensive gun violence reduction strategy, utilizing a number of tools, just not ShotSpotter, but other tools as well, we can show progress,” he said.

For Clark the issue is personal, as he grew up in Oakland, a city which has experienced 72 homicides this year alone, according to the local police department.

“I would say as a company, our original founding is really about being purposeful and having impact and making a difference,” Clark said.

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