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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.

50 Responses to Failed ShotSpotter Technology Invades the Classroom

    • It lets the SRO or the first responders know where the bad guy is. That may not be readily apparent if they are responding to a shooting on a public school campus that covers 5+ acres.

      It also provides immediate notification, which might not happen if the SRO is in Building A and the shooter is in building D, across campus.

      • Everything could be shown to have some value. The question to ask is it worth several million dollars (to cover a 5+ acre campus)? Or $100K to cover a small school? That money is coming from somewhere and someone – would you pay for it voluntarily? The money is stollen from us by the government on their pet projects and pet companies and people, while we are told to bend over, because it’s for the children…

        • We’ve worked with a client who sells similar technology to the private sector and the stated costs are inflated (because, government, i’m guessing). I would expect the actual costs to be less that $5/sensor/month in a competitive environment.

          Not sure how I would build an ROI for this specific application.

          You’ll have to take your issues with taxation up with your elected representative.

        • My actual experience with this technology – almost $10M of taxpayer money down the drain to develop one of these systems. It never worked adequately. There are some applications where it could be somewhat effective for military use (the ROI is much higher in that case, as soldiers on a battlefield are under fire a lot…), but for civilian use, in my opinion, it is nothing more than a padding in some people’s pockets. The systems are very susceptible to noise (slammed door, dropped chair, etc.) – if they are set to pick up every possible shot, like a fairly quiet .22 (imagine a SWAT attack because someone dropped a chair?) or they are liable to miss shots if sensitivity is set higher (imagine the repercussions then?). I can’t say how good the technology may get to in ten years, but for now one can spend his money in a wiser fashion.

        • That kind of money could buy a lot of armed security – whether through arming and training existing staff, or hiring armed security.

    • It doesn’t as there is no one armed to respond. What it does do is speed up the statist’s preferred huddle and die approach.

  1. “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.”

    They can’t. Protection requires action. You are not “protected” by detecting a possible threat. You are protected by taking action to minimize or eliminate that threat. These systems are passive – they identify a sound that possibly meets certain criteria and send out a warning. At best they’re redundant, at worst they’ll cause confusion and reduce reaction time.

    • “Protection requires action. You are not “protected” by detecting a possible threat. You are protected by taking action to minimize or eliminate that threat. These systems are passive – they identify a sound that possibly meets certain criteria and send out a warning. At best they’re redundant, at worst they’ll cause confusion and reduce reaction time.”

      Excellent points.

      Does knowing where the shots are being fired by itself reduce the body count? Highly doubtful.

      Police response times are going to be 10 minutes or so (generously). This system does nothing to reduce/eliminate the threat during that time.

      Also, bad guy shooters do OCCASIONALLY move around as they shoot.

      Seems about all this could be good for is collecting information to aid the investigation/piece together the bad guy’s movements during the ‘event.’

      • Exactly. Helping the police figure out where the shots were fired from in their post-event investigation is not “protection”. And even that information would be of dubious value considering that echoes off buildings tend to confuse these “shot tracking” systems.

      • Kansas City installed Shotspotter a year ago. I just saw an article that said drivebys are up 25% this year. YMMV.

        I can see that knowing where shots are being fired frequently can help in assigning patrols, but I can’t imagine the PD doesn’t know that already.

    • “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 GRANT $ began to flow. And as Obumer is shutting down the US military, no $ for high priced useless crap there.

    • Action is not necessarily the only means of protection. (Nor need we immediately present our own preferred alternative.)

      The two best things that could be said for this technology are that it:
      – could cut the response time by a couple of minutes; and,
      – pinpoint the location of the shots fired.

      Not much for the apparent costs.

      Short of our preferred approach, the first alternatives to consider are:
      1. – hardening the parameter to prevent or slow-down access;
      2. – isolate everyone not under immediate attack by allowing them to lock their doors at the sound of gunfire
      3. – maintain routine patrols in a pattern/schedule to get police on-the-scene ASAP when an alarm is raised;
      4. – direct alarms (e.g., as for banks) to minimize time-to-dispatch.

      I agree that arming the staff is the most cost-effective countermeasure. Suppose this is really true. To paraphrase an infamous Secretary of State: “At this point [gun-control in 2015] what difference does it make?” Will the uncommitted, gun-control-sympathetic, squeamish and uninformed immediately leap to recognizing how it is that Mrs. Smith with a S&W in her thigh holster is the best answer in the worst-case scenario? That which we recognize as “the solution” resembles – on first impression – “the problem” (Gunzzzzz!)

      This – our favored – approach is apt to shut down the thought process immediately.

      We may be better off opening the discussion in a way that might prove more productive.

      First, get the listener to recognize how open and vulnerable a school campus is. Isn’t that the obvious place to start? Harden that parameter. If our schools are not fiscally or operationally committed to that passive expedient, then they won’t do anything else.

      Second, someone may get by the parameter defense. At least, then, deny them freedom of movement to minimize casualties. There WILL BE casualties; an entire room of 31 people. But, there need NOT be MORE. Now, my fellow Americans, do you see that there is nothing that is going to prevent the 1st or 2’nd casualty? The best we can hope for once the parameter is breached is to contain the casualties somehow.

      Third, we are going to have to call the cops. Better that they get there sooner vs. later. Do you see how long it takes for the cops to arrive? While in transit, there are going to be casualties. How many casualties are you willing to accept before the school “does SOMETHING!”?

      At this point, once a concerned person is thinking about the problems facing a school, they will begin preparing their mental field for possibilities they were previously unwilling to entertain.

  2. I remember back 25 years or so ago a little article in some magazine about tech similar to this…interfaced with a fire control system to return automatic weapons fire to the location of the sound. It was billed as counter sniper technology, was truck mounted (mobile) and…

    So far as I know…never actually worked or was deployed in active service. I certainly never heard or read anything about it ever again. If I’m wrong and it HAS been (successfully) used, I’d sure like to know. I been curious about the fate of that system for a long time.

    (Based on my reading of the initial article, I thought it has some serious vulnerabilities to…sniper fire. But…still wondered if it was ever used).

    Serious question: Why do so many people think all problems are best solved by technology? Technology has a place; but it should not always be the default solution. KISS is a thing.

      • Incorrect. Shot Spotter is acoustic. There are image based or image and acoustic technologies, but Shot Spotter is acoustic. In a building, with many rooms, hallways and turns, image based technology would be prohibitively expensive.

        • Shotspotter is audio – there are other platforms out there.

          None of the audio based systems work reliably. The radar/lidar ones are more like a scaled down counterbattery radar, and those might work with more development. I think Israel already has a system in place, can’t remember the name… Curtain?

          For an interior system, audio is fine, if your expectation is that it will get responders into the right area, not pinpoint a shooter.

      • “Those systems are based on radar and a ballistic computer, not noise detection.”

        No, the one I’m thinking of was quite specifically acoustic in nature. It had three microphones (iirc) to triangulate shot positions in distance, direction and elevation, and it seems like (again, going on memory) it was geared toward urban warfare.

        I never heard anything about it following that one article (in regard to counter sniper tech), but this ShotSpotter does look remarkably like it in design concept.

  3. If schools are going to spend that kind of money, why not just install security cameras in every room, hallway, and schoolyard, and hire someone to monitor them. It should make reading “1984” a more visceral experience.

  4. “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.”

    Yet another “response” to the Newtown opportunity for personal enrichment. IIRC, “Man with a gun at the school” was reported to 911 before the first shot was fired, due to the megabucks camera system previously installed in order to absolutely ensure the safety of every single child against everything imaginable. In which case, this system would be not only useless, but redundant as well. OTOH, 6 adults were murdered, none of them by surprise. That would be 6 shooters the killer had to come through to get to those kids (unless the other adults also joined in), if our laws made any sense. He would have gone somewhere else, even given that it was his dream to murder little children. Perhaps a playground.

  5. These systems are about as effective as a video camera (actually, less so). You can analyze the sound file later and reconstruct who and where got shot first…
    On the technical side, the systems are tested against a quiet background. In a school shooting situation, when all hell breaks loose and the acoustic background raises about 30+ dB, these systems will be totally useless.

  6. Given that these things react to sounds, putting them on a college campus and telling the students about it seems made to order for pranks. An M80 with a delaying fuse could cause lots of reaction. After it happens enough, the product will get the reputation it deserves even among college administrations.

    • as someone else mentioned:
      “The systems are very susceptible to noise (slammed door, dropped chair, etc.) – if they are set to pick up every possible shot, like a fairly quiet .22 (imagine a SWAT attack because someone dropped a chair?) or they are liable to miss shots if sensitivity is set higher (imagine the repercussions then?).”

      Good way to get out of class in elementary or high school (pop a balloon), although somewhat risky. But they might have some kind of acoustic profile for gunshots that wouldn’t be triggered by other noises… Ooooohh, what if you and two friends coordinate popping balloons in different locations within a few minutes of each other, bet that would get their attention regardless…lots of possibilities there.

      • And knowing the very basics of this technology (Wiki would be enough), a perp will come with sub-sonic ammo and will be undetected by the Shot Spotter… (the system listens for the super-sonic crack).

  7. Image how name teachers or staff could be trained for “$10000 – $100000″…. or a combination of teachers/staff and a SRO.

  8. Robert McNamara (sp?) proved at the lowest level that technology is not always good. Coming from Ford, he instituted the famed “body count” in Vietnam.

    So what happened? It was decided the higher the body count meant the VC and North Vietnam were losing. There really is little connection between body count and success, but it convinced the people at the top it was good, thus computers were used to track body count.

    The noise tech doesn’t work because SOUNDS ARE REFLECTED OFF OF SURFACES, but the bs sells well I guess.

  9. This reminds me of a project our Chief of Police was working on….. cameras.

    Our Chief wanted to install some two-hundred cctv cameras around our fair city as crime prevention tool.

    Someone asked him in a meeting how a camera on a pole was going to prevent crime. His response was ‘knowing where the criminals are can help us allocate our limited resources more effectively.’ That same someone asked a follow up question of ‘how does knowing what time a criminal drove in front of a camera help reduce crime? How does knowing they were at the corner of fifth and main at 8:23 help when the nearest cop is ten minutes away? Do you know you can drive completely through our City in less than ten minutes?” That someone was asked, very politely, to leave the meeting.

    That particular Chief isn’t here anymore but I would bet you a dollar he would have promoted this kind of technology to be installed and the cost be damned.

  10. I don’t see a problem with this kind of system used as part of a layered defense. Hardened perimeter, then detection, then armed response (armed teachers, staff, RSO officer). The three things are not mutually exclusive we can have all three.

    • Yeah, but I doubt these same institutes of learning would go ahead with an armed RSO or heaven forbid, allow faculty members to utilize their 2a rights.

    • There are several problems with that argument.

      First is raw effectiveness…not yet even considering cost-benefit ratio. A system like this just won’t really actually DO much of anything to stop a violent person from committing violence.

      Think about it this way: a lot (most) of these guys, as rare as they are, are pretty committed to not surviving the event. So, why would they care if the Po-Leece knew they fired in Room 123 first, as opposed to down the hall? What does it really matter?

      Second, on the scale raw effectiveness (still ignoring costs), where does this lie in comparison to the other two legs of the ‘triangle’ you mentioned? Hardened perimeter seems somewhat suspect but okay, not making it easy for the baddies to get into the school can’t hurt. But, once he IS in…he’s IN…and the hardened perimeter does NOTHING to stop/slow him down. He only has to ‘breach’ that perimeter once.

      Now, let’s look at the third leg…armed resistance. Time and time again, in real world (not “theoretical” pie-in-the-sky “We can Reduce School Violence” fantasizing) event, armed resistance stops the attack cold in its tracks. It is the ONLY leg on your triangle that actually has ANY raw effectiveness at all.

      So, what is the real point of expending energy on OTHER solutions that really do not offer much at all? They are ‘feel good’ solutions designed to do just that…make people “feel” like something is being done.

      Finally, let’s now let cost into the discussion. Solutions like this one TOTALLY fail on the cost-benefit analysis. This tech is obscenely expensive for the virtually zero real return it provides. But, again, it serves nicely to fuel the “feeling” that spending money solves problems.

      The real solution here is to simply allow those staff and teachers that choose to carry…to carry. The bad guy would never know who was armed and who wasn’t. The little 5′ 90 lb receptionist at the very first door he encounters might be packing and drop him T-U before he fires a shot. This COMPLETELY changes the calculus of someone wanting to do such an attack…nuts or not.

      And…allowing those that would choose to carry to simply carry would not cost the school system a single dime. That’s the REAL reason this sort of simple solution is fought against…it removes the ‘power’ from those that control the purse strings of other people’s money and returns it to good, old fashioned responsible adults.

      If (for some pathological reason) the School Board/State felt they HAD to spend money on an “Armed Teacher” program, fine…they can finance practice ammo for regular practice and say once-per-year QUALITY tactical training. It would STILL come out cheaper than this nonsense and continue to be several orders of magnitude more effective.

  11. Amazing that something like this would be considered when the obvious solution is trained staff with concealed weapons on duty in their regular jobs. Those people, a few cameras and some training in spotting threats would go much further to stop school shootings. Along with that some classes in why bullying is wrong and alternative methods of dealing with that would also go a long way. But, the Gun Law advocates would never go along with armed teachers because “guns are dangerous and evil” right ? In the meantime, Gun Free Zones, like schools, seem to be where these kinds of incidents tend to happen. When will the Public see the fallacy in the delusional theories of the Leftist Gun Grabbers ?

    • “When will the Public see the fallacy in the delusional theories of the Leftist Gun Grabbers ?” — at about the same time as the public will see the fallacy in the delusional theories of the Leftists in general. (Don’t hold your breath…)

  12. School boards that implement ShotSpotter can say, “See, we’re doing something,” while actually doing nothing to improve student and teacher safety. This system is just another tool designed to give school boards and administrators cover while they continue to put lives at risk through their own left wing hoplophobia. Like any other politically correct non-solution that supports the bureaucrats, it should be a big seller.

    • All that PLUS they get to spend a big bucket of money!! There seems to be some sort of draw with that…political power is measured by how much public money is spent.

  13. The system was, as I understand it, designed for counter-sniper, and close in counter Battery triangulation. To provide the ability to return, suppress/eliminate additional fire from a hostile target.
    The value of such a system in a civilian facility, if one takes into account the FBI study, seems to be … at best … of little effect and a waste of funding on the part of the school system involved. This money would be better spent on real time training and in-structure (read trained and armed) personal who could respond in moments … not minutes … to an incident.
    This isn’t even a good bandaid let alone a solution to the issue of armed aggressive intrusion to a school, or public facility. It does nothing to prevent, contain, or address such an action and given the environments in which it would be placed, common sense and a bit of logic, has to question the systems effective usefulness.
    Questions: is the system able to be effective in such environments when/if tuned to military specifications? I.e.; is the system nearly or as sensitive as MilSpec or has it been “tuned down” to be cost effective for this type of civilian application/installation?
    Is it capable of reading and reporting a firearms report within the loud and unpredictable environment of such an incident that may be suppressed in some manner?
    No, sorry but I’m not buying it. This is a boondoggle by a company who sees $$$$$ on the backs of the historic knee jerk response to keep people “safe” by providing a system which at best provides little help in the critical first minutes of such a hanious act.
    Better a facility/school spend its budget on real time, real response, effective measures of deterrent before the fact, and immedent response actions in the opening seconds of an incident, should deterrent prove ineffective, than the ability to provide the news media with a moment by moment movement map after the fact …. Providing they are recording such information in the first place.
    This should come under the heading of EPIC FAIL.

    • For civilian use, the system needs to be more sensitive than the military application. The military systems are not designed to respond to .22’s or sub-sonic rounds. They need the supersonic crack of a real rifle bullet. By increasing the sensitivity of the system to detect low amplitude .22’s and not having to rely on the supersonic crack to detect pistol rounds, the false alarm rate will be tremendous. The alternative is to tune it down, eliminating the false alarms, but also hoping that an actual shooting never happens to expose the fact that the system will not react to it (unless high power rifle ammo is used).

  14. FWIW I wouldn’t quite say I’m okay with or pro shot spotter in general. I wrote the article I wrote because I have personally seen it used very effectively in a troubled community and I know, for a fact, that it can be effective and provide a ROI. But…

    Despite the technological complexities, in practice it’s an extremely simple tool and the one and only thing it does is immediately tell the police where shots are fired. Whether that ends up being an effective crime fighting tool and/or a deterrent to future gunfire depends 100% completely and totally on the police. If they arrive at the scene 5 minutes later nobody is going to give a crap about Shot Spotter and it’s going to be a complete waste of money. If they arrive within a few seconds, as they did in the neighborhood I was living in, that really is a big deterrent to gunfire on the streets as they actually did catch perpetrators in the act, find gunshot victims in time to help them, find evidence before it could be hidden, etc etc. This was a change from the reality prior to Shot Spotter’s installation in this particular neighborhood, where gangs could shoot at each other or at random crap with near impunity, and the nightly gunfire I was used to hearing — no joke — for a year or so before the tool was installed began dropping drastically thereafter. But, again, the real credit goes to that police department for driving what is clearly a best case scenario use of shot spotter…

    • To make it effective, our schools would have to be effectively cordoned off by the police. Might as well set up classes in jails – at least the infrastructure is already there…
      Would those conditions not reflect on the young minds that are put through that mill daily?…

      • I wouldn’t say that. The neighborhood I lived in was not cordoned off in any way. To make it effective in any environment the key is immediate response to the shot location. I don’t think that can be done at most schools since most schools don’t have armed responders all over the dang place. Probably shouldn’t, either. But the fact remains that instantaneously pinpointing the exact location of a gunshot is a big advantage to responding to whatever is going on. The key is getting there fast enough that you can change the outcome rather than simply draw chalk outlines and start an investigation, or find that the situation has already moved to another location by the time you arrive at the first.

        Again, it’s just a simple question of “will automated, instant notification of a gunshot’s precise location facilitate an effective response?” The answer is that it can, but only if you respond meaningfully and rapidly. Seems like the vast, overwhelming majority of shot spotter installations lack that second part (rapid response), which makes the first part (the system itself) completely worthless.

        • “Seems like the vast, overwhelming majority of shot spotter installations lack that second part (rapid response), which makes the first part (the system itself) completely worthless.” — Precisely. The technology was developed to help soldiers locate snipers, with the assumption that the soldier has a loaded rifle in his hands.

          I wouldn’t want to glance over the fact that more police presence, visibly protected “perimeters” and check points on the way to school and in the schools do have an impact on those same children. Along with suspensions for gun-looking Pop Tarts and “inappropriate” t-shirts, the damage done to the brains is something to be concerned with. Unfortunately, brain damage seems to be irrelavant, so long that the body is preserved.

  15. This could be a path to outlawing all suppressors. If these systems get enough traction suppressors would be seen as circumventing the detection system and outlawed in the name of safety.

  16. It doesn’t seem to do anything other than help with the police report after the event, they will know where the shooter struck first and then next. Other than that what does this do that a person on a cell phone can’t do?
    It doesn’t give a description of the shooter, current location of the shooter, unless they are currently firing. I’m betting that it won’t even tell you if there are multiple shooters if they happen to be using the same general caliber of weapon.

    You could get the same results in the school by putting another fire alarm in the rooms for active shooter events, heck the alarm wound be better as teachers would know to do the only thing they are currently allowed to do…… lock the door and hope the shooter ends their own life before making it to their location.

    Respectfully Submitted

  17. Repeal the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 that unlicensed and people white honored permits are out of grey zone and can carry there compleat clear !!

    All other is good for massmurders only

  18. Arm the teachers. At least tell the world that the teachers ARE armed. This way the dirtbags will not know if the teachers are armed or not. Thanks for your support and vote. Pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

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