Criminal Justice

The Big Ear of the Law: High-Tech Microphones Help Locate Gunshots


A former physics professor has turned his talents to fighting crime by tweaking sensors used to locate earthquakes.

Robert Showen founded ShotSpotter Inc. to sell microphones he developed that pinpoint the location of gunshots and relay the information to police departments, the Wall Street Journal reports. The devices can be attached to telephone poles and rooftops to find gunshots within 80 feet of their location.

Oakland, Calif., is one of 29 cities that had bought the equipment by the end of last year. The police there also use other high-tech devices such as license-plate readers and surveillance cameras.

The device isn’t a cure-all. Oakland police dispatchers were deluged with about 3,000 reports of gunshots the first year after the technology was installed in October 2006, the story says. Some lawmakers there said police don’t have enough resources to follow up on the gunshot alerts, and fewer than 12 arrests have been made based on the data.

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