Pilot gunshot detection systems coming to Indianapolis' east side neighborhoods

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police next month will begin to test gunshot detection systems on the city's near east side in what is the latest effort to combat rising violent crime in Indiana's capital.

Law enforcement officials say the technology, which pinpoints the location of gunfire and sends the information police, will allow officers to better respond to shots fired incidents. The department began accepting information from potential vendors earlier this month and plans to pilot the systems during a three month period.

Successful technology, police said, must be able to "recognize and identify specific types of gunshots" and determine the location of the shots with at least a 90% success rate.

Those selected to participate in the pilot will install the detection systems in a nearly 5-square-mile area on the city's east side. The pilot area encompasses Massachusetts Avenue and East 21st Street to the north; Emerson Avenue to the east, East Washington Street to the south; and North Oriental Street to the west.

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A screenshot of what Indianapolis Metropolitan Police called "hotspots" for homicides and non-fatal shootings in 2021.
A screenshot of what Indianapolis Metropolitan Police called "hotspots" for homicides and non-fatal shootings in 2021.

The area was selected for the pilot because it is "the most prominent in the city for robberies, non-fatal shootings, and murders in 2021," according to Indianapolis police.

The move comes on the heels of Indianapolis' deadliest years in history. After setting its homicide record in 2020 with 245 homicides, the city tallied a new record-high 271 homicides in 2021.

The east side neighborhood where the gunshot detection technology will roll out was particularly impacted by the violence. In 2021, 24 people were killed in shootings in the area, according to an IndyStar analysis of homicide data. By mid-August, nearly 18% of the city's non-fatal shootings occurred in the 5-square-mile area, IMPD officials said in the gunshot detection announcement.

The violence has led some residents in the neighborhood to isolate themselves and become less engaged in the community, according to Near Eastside Community Organization President Chris Staab.

An example surveillance camera IMPD plans to install across the city this year.
An example surveillance camera IMPD plans to install across the city this year.

Staab told IndyStar he's looking forward to the gunshot detection technology pilot in his neighborhood, where he says it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between fireworks and gunshots. The technology, he said, could increase police response times, which in turn could save lives.

"I can’t wait for it to happen," Staab said of the installation of the technology. “If we could get first responders to a shots fired scene sooner, maybe we can lower our homicide rates.”

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Not everyone in the community, however, is on board with the effort. Pastor David Cederquist, whose Brookside Community Church is at the center of the pilot area, said he is "not sure that technology is going to be what stops the violence" in Indianapolis.

Cederquist referenced a report from the ACLU that claims, in part, the implementation of ShotSpotter, a leading gunshot detection system, in Chicago resulted in a number of unnecessary police runs. The report also said the technology distorted gunfire detection statistics, detecting more incidents in neighborhoods where the sensors are located and creating "justification for over-policing in communities of color."

Cederquist said he thinks a more "human-centered approach" where people interact and build relationships with one another is more effective at getting at root causes of violence.

“I think the more we can be rooted in relationships and help people belong as part of the city, that's going to be the answer for crime prevention and violence reduction in our area," the pastor told IndyStar.

Funding for gunshot detection

The gunshot technology will be funded by a portion of the $150 million of federal American Rescue Plan money allocated to Indianapolis' three-year anti-violence plan. About $33 million of that COVID relief money was allocated to IMPD, who will use $9 million for technology upgrades.

Police in January said tech upgrades would be part of their continued crime-fighting priorities in 2022. They plan to add about 350 cameras and 350 license plate readers to "high crime areas" and along major roads across the city. That effort is already underway — IMPD in December installed 10 plate readers in the downtown area.

In their announcement last week, police said those cameras and plate readers will be installed along with the gunshot detection systems in the east side neighborhood to "ensure appropriate crime prevention and policing strategies are utilized."

The city has considered gunshot detection in the past and previously consulted with ShotSpotter. Issues with funding held up those efforts — law enforcement officials have told IndyStar some gunshot technology could cost around $250,000, plus another $200,000 a year for maintenance, to cover one 3-square-mile area with sensors.

Staab, the Near Eastside Community Organization president, noted the gunshot technology is expensive but said he is happy to see the city will pilot a few different systems. “It’s just another tool in our toolbox," Staab said. "If this is a tool that could save a life, yes, I’m all for it.”

The city's request for information from vendors ends March 1. Those interested can learn more at www.indy.gov/workflow/find-bid-opportunities.

Contact Lawrence Andrea at 317-775-4313 or landrea@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis crime: Police to pilot gunshot detection technology