Holyoke’s new shooting surveillance system reveals how few people report gunfire

  • Holyoke Police Chief David Pratt speaks at a press conference on Elm Street on March 23. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2023 4:05:18 PM

HOLYOKE — Police Chief David Pratt says the use of a shooting surveillance system has given his department a clear picture of how prevalent gun violence is in the city — and of how few people call 911 when shots are fired.

“We have become educated as to what’s going on here,” Pratt said Wednesday at a press conference. “It has opened our eyes to a lot more incidents of gunfire than we anticipated.”

Police Department statistics show 113 incidents involving gunfire in a 2-square-mile downtown area covered by ShotSpotter technology from March through August, producing only 14 calls to 911. Police have detected 457 rounds, recovered seven guns and made 10 arrests. There have been six victims, 72 incidents have occurred near a playground, 27 have occurred near a school and 10 were during daylight hours.

Two hours after Wednesday’s press conference, police responded to an afternoon shooting in the area of Sargeant and Maple streets downtown that involved multiple victims. Police were notified of the shooting by both the ShotSpotter system and by multiple 911 calls from people in the area, police said.

But data from the ShotSpotter technology shows that calls to 911 are rare in most cases. Pratt said the low volume of 911 calls in relation to gunfire incidents was the most astonishing thing to him, prompting a public appeal.

He said he understands why people are hesitant to call in these instances, but encouraged them to do so.

“We need your help,” he said. “Please call.”

He added, “I know one of the big factors — people always think ‘someone will call, I heard it but someone else will call.’

“They’re not calling. Know that if that’s the reason, call. Because we need the information.

“ShotSpotter is doing an amazing job getting us into the area, into the right area, of where we need to be,” Pratt continued. “We need the public to help us with these calls to bring it home so that we can make arrests, we can recover evidence quicker.”

Mayor Joshua Garcia said the level of gun violence in Holyoke, whether it’s shots fired in the air or at somebody, is not acceptable, and he likewise urged the public to help de-escalate the situation.

“When there’s a shot fired, call the police,” he said.

ShotSpotter uses multiple sensors that react to sound at a certain decibel level, Police Sgt. Joseph Zurheide explained. Three sensors need to be tripped so the system can triangulate and pinpoint where the shot came from.

Critics have argued that the technology, which Pratt said is costing approximately $137,000 over two years, is ineffective at detecting gunfire and does nothing to address the root causes of gun violence. But Pratt said police have been able to confirm the accuracy of the alerts in well over 50% of cases, and there are often other reasons — such as the use of a revolver — why no evidence is recovered.

“I’m sold,” he said. “This system is giving us the tools to get us to the right place.”

ShotSpotter technology is used in more than 150 cities across the country, including in Boston, Worcester and Springfield. The company says it has an accuracy rate of 97% and a false positive rate of 0.5%.

Some cities have been unhappy with the system and stopped using ShotSpotter, including Fall River, where in 2018 city and police officials said they could not keep paying for a $120,000-a-year gunshot detection system that then-Mayor Jasiel Correia said “works less than 50 percent of the time.”

The Fall River Herald News reported that the system had an accuracy rate of about 50% and did not detect any of the seven gunshots involved in a February 2018 gun homicide in the city’s downtown.

SoundThinking, the new corporate name for ShotSpotter Inc., announced late in 2022 that it had signed a 44-month contract worth more than $4 million with Massachusetts to provide the state with a multi-year subscription to Coplink X, a crime analytics platform that the company describes as “an investigative search engine and analytics tool that has amassed the largest database of police agency data in the United States to accelerate crime solving.”

The announcement said the system “will be accessible to all members of local, county and state-level law enforcement throughout Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts State Police paid $840,000 to the company on Feb. 1 and another $1.2 million on Sept. 26, according to the state’s open checkbook. Those are the only two payments to ShotSpotter or SoundThinking dating back to fiscal year 2010 listed in the state spending database.

Material from State House News Service is included in this report. James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.


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