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Louisville Police Continue To Pursue Gunshot Tracking System

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With homicides and gun violence surging toward record highs in Louisville this year, Metro Police officials are continuing to pursue the acquisition of a gunshot detection system.

Chief Steve Conrad announced last month the plan to buy the equipment. And this week, the head of the department's technical services unit presented research to the Metro Council's public safety committee affirming the need for the technology.

Using an array of microphones affixed to poles and structures across a neighborhood, the system alerts police when the sound of a gunshot is detected.

Lt. Josh Judah told the committee the department's six-month research effort included polling a handful of cities currently using gunshot detection systems. He said most expressed broad satisfaction with the system.

Some cities, however, have been critical of the technology. Charlotte stopped using the system after it failed to produce arrests, according to a report from investigative news outlet Reveal.

The same report found that in San Francisco the gunshot detection system alerted police to more than 3,000 gunshots during a two-year period, but it resulted in just two arrests — only one of which was gun-related.

Judah argued the technology is more useful for allowing officers to "better understand the networks of people using illegal weapons on the street and how that ties into other crimes."

"That seems to be where this technology is paying off the most," he said.

Responding to more shooting incidents, and doing so more quickly, can help officers gather evidence and talk to more witnesses, he said.

"This is a tool that you use as part of an overall strategy to combat gun violence," Judah said. "They're not a cure-all."

He also said the department would explore adding cameras to the new microphone infrastructure, as some other cities have done.

Judah said the police department would work to find a vendor to supply the system. It's unclear how much the technology will cost.

Council Members Support the System

Earlier this year, the Metro Council allotted more than $200,000 to the police department to boost surveillance efforts. That funding is being used at the discretion of Conrad.

Judah said the gunshot detection system is "extremely costly" and would focus on a specific neighborhood or areas plagued by high rates of crime.

Council committee members present for Judah's presentation earlier this week supported the department's push for the new technology.

Jessica Green, a District 1 Democrat, said the city needs to be "on the cutting edge of technology."

"Drastic times call for innovative measures," she said.

This year is on pace for a record number of homicides. Shootings are also surging, according to police data.

Kelly Downard, a District 16 Republican, said he's convinced any budget requests from the police department for new technology would be met. He called it "too darned important."

Yet Downard was critical of the speed with which the department expects to begin installing the gunshot detection system. Judah said the installation would begin next year.

Downard said that is unacceptable.

"That's nowhere near the sense of urgency that needs to be had on this subject matter," he said.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.