TTAG has ripped the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system a new one on several occasions (here, here, here, here and here). While Jeremy S is OK with it, I stand by my conclusion that ShotSpotter and its ilk are an expensive and nearasdammit useless way to fight “gun crime.” After convincing various municipalities to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer cash on ShotSpotter – to no appreciable effect – the company and its competitors have created a smaller, simpler product and focused their marketing efforts on schools. The ever-credulous Washington Post reports . . .
When the 550 students at a private school in Virginia Beach recently returned to class, they walked into classrooms newly monitored by gunshot-detection technology. Acoustic sensors tucked high on walls listened for the distinct sound of gunfire, able to pinpoint its location and alert authorities. The technology also greeted students heading back to schools in Newark, Calif., and Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
These schools are among the few early adopters of military battlefield tools that today are being deployed to address a nightmare scenario much closer to home: the school shooting. The technology doesn’t stop gunfire, but supporters say it can limit the carnage by speeding up the emergency response.
At the risk of stating the obvious, nothing quite speeds up the emergency response like an armed good guy on the spot. You know: an armed teacher, administrators, staff member or School Resource Officer. Somehow, that fact doesn’t get a look in in the WaPo article. Instead, we get this:
Critics view the gunshot-detection systems, which can cost $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of a school, as failing to address what they say should be the real goal — preventing gun violence.
“It’s a mistake to install, and it shouldn’t even be on the board for consideration,” said school safety consultant Ken Trump, who favors staff training and mental health efforts.
Ron Stephens, executive director of the nonprofit National School Safety Center, said one manufacturer asked his center to endorse its gunshot-detection tool. He declined, in part because his center doesn’t promote products. But he also considers the technology to be misguided.
While there’s a lot to be said for knowing the exact location of lethal threats within a school at the earliest possible opportunity, brickbats for the Washington Post for ignoring the best and most obvious way to counter a school shooter, or shooters, or terrorists. This willful ignorance of the advantages of ballistic protection – including immediate availability and low cost – is driving sales.
The demand for this military-inspired technology in schools and the apprehension it causes can be traced to the fear that reverberates from the massacre nearly three years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults.
In fact, one school near Newtown is installing a gunshot-detection system right now.
“Unfortunately, there’s a market for this,” said Christian Connors, chief executive of Shooter Detection Systems, which is working with the Connecticut school. He declined to name the school because of contractual reasons.
Yeah, I’m sure Mr. Connors is all cut-up about the burgeoning market for gunfire detection systems, spurred, no doubt, by his salesmen. Ditto the ShotSpotter folks . . .
ShotSpotter chief executive Ralph Clark said his company wasn’t looking to expand into the schools market until the Newtown shooting. That’s when the inquiries began, asking whether the ShotSpotter devices could be modified to protect students.
Its first effort came last September, when ShotSpotter’s SecureCampus system went live at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.
On Aug. 27, at nearby Savannah State College, a student was fatally shot during a fight in the student union. For some, this highlighted the need for the technology.
For others, not so much. Especially when you consider the rapid nature of previous – but not necessarily future – active shooter attacks.
To buttress their case for installing the devices, the gunshot-detection companies point to a 2013 FBI study of active shooter cases.
The study examined 160 incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2013. It found that these shootings were rare but were increasing, almost tripling in the study’s second half to 16.4 a year. A total of 486 people were killed over the 14-year span. The study captured high-profile shootings such as the ones at Virginia Tech, at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009 and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in 2012.
Twenty-seven of the 160 shootings occurred in schools serving kindergarten to 12th grade.
Twelve other shootings took place at colleges and trade schools.
The study also noted how quickly the shootings unfolded: 70 percent lasted less than five minutes.
So, if school shootings are over in five minutes, considering the unstated tendency for school shooters to roam schools looking for victims, and the obvious location system provided by listening for gunfire and getting info from witnesses, and the obvious chaos of this kind of crime scene, and the possibility of multiple shooters at multiple locations, how much of an advantage could a gunfire detection system provide responding police?
Some. But not as much as armed first responders. I mean, people on the scene.