This city is extending its gunfire-detection system to cover more schools

A day after a gunman killed 17 people and wounded many more at a Florida high school, the Fresno City Council approved a contract to expand the city’s ShotSpotter technology system to cover a larger area, including more school campuses across Fresno.

The timing of Thursday’s vote was coincidental; the three-year, $440,000 contract with ShotSpotter Inc. was placed on the agenda late last week. But the mass shooting Wednesday in Parkland, Florida was on the minds of the council members during the meeting, who paused for a moment of silence and adjourned the meeting in memory of the victims.

The ShotSpotter system uses a strategically placed array of acoustic sensors to detect gunfire and notify police dispatchers and officers within seconds, even before residents or witnesses call 911 to report a shooting. The technology can distinguish gunshots from other types of noise and pinpoint the location to within feet, providing the information to the dispatch center and patrol cars.

“It is the easiest technology, the most accurate technology, that I’ve been associated with in 16 years as chief,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council. He added that in 70 percent of the shots-fired incidents detected by ShotSpotter, residents typically do not call in to report the gunfire. In those instances, “absent ShotSpotter, we don’t even know there’s a shooting,” Dyer added.

The system, which Fresno began using in 2015, currently covers 12 square miles of the city and includes 55 school campuses, and the Fresno Unified School District is contributing funding for half of that area. The expansion will increase the coverage to 14.26 square miles and add another 10 schools plus the entire Fresno City College campus. It will also cover part of the city’s new bus rapid transit line along the Blackstone Avenue corridor from Olive Avenue to Dakota Avenue in central Fresno. The BRT system begins service next week.

The average response time for Fresno police officers to arrive at a life-threatening emergency such as gunshots is eight minutes, Dyer told the council. With ShotSpotter’s immediacy and accuracy, he said, that time is cut in half, to about four minutes. He added that he hopes to continue expanding the system to cover a total of 17 to 18 square miles of the city in the coming year.