The city approved a contract extension for the technology that detects and locates gunshots for $4.7 million earlier this year.
DENVER — When three suspects pulled up to a stop sign, got out of their car and opened fire on six people standing at East Colfax Avenue and Verbena Street last week, Denver Police said a technology that detects the sound of gunfire first alerted them to the shooting.
The technology, called ShotSpotter, is designed to detect the sound of gunfire, triangulate its location and send an alert to officers notifying them of a possible shooting.
For the East Colfax shooting that occurred on Tuesday, Nov. 1, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said officers began responding to the scene after receiving the ShotSpotter alert.
“There was a 911 call that was placed in relation to that specific incident, but officers were already on the way because of the alert from ShotSpotter,” Thomas said. “We got there even faster.”
“Minutes, seconds count. So the fact that we were able to be on the way before that call was even placed I think was helpful,” Thomas added.
At the shooting scene that afternoon, DPD Major Crimes Commander Matt Clark said officers didn’t respond to the scene under emergency protocols until the 911 call came into dispatchers.
Thomas said the technology helps in instances when there isn’t a 911 call and when the 911 caller hears gunfire, but doesn’t know where the shooting may have happened. Officers respond, search for bullet casings and collect evidence — even when there was not a victim in the shooting.
The program, however, comes with cost — Denver City Council approved a $4.7 million, five-year contract extension earlier this year — and controversy. Right now, the program covers 14 square miles of the city’s “crime hot spots,” which are concentrated in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.
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“While it may be true that this technology is applied in particularly minority neighborhoods, that’s where the violence is occurring unfortunately,” Thomas said. “I think it’s prudent for us to follow the data and put the technology where it’s most helpful.”
Thomas said he has not heard people say they don’t want ShotSpotter in their neighborhood and he believes officers view it as a resource — not a flawed technology that leads them on wild goose chases to dead ends because of malfunctions caused by car backfires or other sounds the system mistakes for gunfire.
One man, identified as 41-year-old Alan Dawkins, died in the East Colfax shooting on Nov. 8. Five others were injured — three critically, DPD said. One woman remains in the hospital, a department spokeswoman said Thursday.
Chief Thomas did not give any updates on the status of the criminal investigation. No arrests have been made in the case.
Full interview with Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas about the ShotSpotter system:
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