Kansas City police defend Shotspotter program after article questions its effectiveness

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- "It's a very small area but it does impact that area very, very significantly."

The Kansas City Police Department is defending its use of an expensive crime fighting tool that it says pinpoints shots fired.

The Shotspotter program hears and identifies gunshots and tells police within a 10 meter area where the gunshot went off. Police say they have been able to crack down on crime in the Shotspotter neighborhood, but a new article questions whether or not the crime fighting tool is effective.

FOX 4's Shannon O'Brien investigated the matter.

Police won't say exactly where the 3.5 miles patrolled by the Shotspotter program is, other than to say it is a high crime area where 70 percent of gunshots are not called in to police.

They say the technology allows them to now respond to 100 percent of shots fired, but a recent article in Forbes magazine questions the effectiveness of the Shotspotter program.

When looking into numbers from cities across the country, including Kansas City, the author of this Forbes magazine article says there is a clear pattern: lots of calls, but few tangible results.

"The numbers reported in the Forbes report to me show a success," said KCPD Major Greg Volker.

Volker believes the Forbes article is fair, because it reported accurate numbers provided by the police department.

Since Shotspotter was implemented in September of 2012 through December of 2015, in the 3.5 mile hot spot radius, Shotspotter alerted police of 6,619 gunfire incidents. Approximately 2,500 those were unfounded, or unable to locate. 714 reports were taken and 108 arrests were made.

However, the police department says what the raw data does not take into account is the anecdotal evidence, which is what really affects people in the Shotspotter neighborhood.

"Any victim of a crime will tell you that if their suspect or perpetrator is arrested then that is a success," said Sgt. Jake Becchino.

Becchino points to a recent arrest where the Shotspotter picked up gunfire that was not called in to 911.

"They responded in less than minute and half to the scene and they were able to catch a suspect on scene that had just committed an assault by firing shot and he was still in possession of the weapon," Becchino added.

FOX 4 tracked down some folks on the east side of town who support the Shotspotter program.

"The more options we have to control crime, the better," said Kansas City resident Kansas Alen Ighdosa

But others believe the $200,000 a year spent on Shotspotter would be better spent hiring more officers to patrol the streets.

"It is not a preventative measure whatsoever. It is actually happening after the shot," Kansas City resident James Hembree said.

The money for the Shotspotter program came from the federal grant given to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to increase safety on bus routes.

There is a five-year contract that ends in September of 2017. They are hoping the results from the first five years are enough to make the city pay to keep the program going for another five years.

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