HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — With more people across the Houston area concerned about crime, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he has to test every possible crime-fighting tool. That includes acoustic sensors that detect and alert deputies to gunfire in real time.
The makers of ShotSpotter tout the device as “precision policing solutions that help save lives, solve cases and deter crime.”
The device was installed in a section of Aldine, a north Harris County community where residents have complained of hearing gunshots.
“So far, we’ve seen a great deal of benefit from it,” Gonzalez said. “No increase of false alarms with the use of technology.”
The technology listens for gunfire within a four-mile radius, Gonzalez and his deputies explained during a press conference a year after the device was installed.
“It’s a game changer,” said Richard Cantu who leads the East Aldine District.
He’s petitioned country leaders for help with random gunfire which includes illegal celebratory shootings that happened on holidays.
“We’re seeing it. We’re seeing the evidence that they’re getting, they’re finding the shell casings. Sometimes they’re making arrests, taking guns off the streets, making our community safer,” Cantu said more than six months after his own daughter was shot and killed.
Aleksis Cantu died on Halloween night 2021. The 18-year old was running from gunfire after police say at least one person pulled a gun during a packed house party in north Houston.
Of gunfire that Aldine residents hear at all hours of the day, “I myself have called it in,” said Cantu. “You hear it and the best thing you can do is guesstimate.”
Harris County said ShotSpotter sensors can signal deputies, through text message, within 82 feet of where the shot was fired. The accuracy, Gonzalez said, is why calls about gunfire are now listed as "priority one" for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Gonzalez and Garcia are hopeful more county commissioners will consider investing in the technology so the program can expand to other corners of the county dealing with high reports of gunfire. “This is investing in public safety,” said Garcia. “The data does not lie.”
From March 31, 2021 to April 1, 2022 the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said ShotSpotter sent 2,580 alerts to deputies after detecting a total of 12,454 rounds of gunfire. Deputies report locating 2,075 casings from scenes located by ShotSpotter. 37 guns were seized as a result of the technology and 42 arrests were made. Deputies report helping prosecutors file 55 charges.
On its website, the makers of ShotSpotter report the technology has led to a 33% decrease in in gunfire in Fort Meyers, Florida in 2020, improved the homicide clearance rate of a large city by 9.4% and has helped to reduce some crimes in Greensboro, South Carolina by 33%.
Critics say the technology is not worth the money and does not prevent gun violence. San Antonio tried and ditched the technology five years ago.
The City of Houston is making a five year investment. In January, the Houston City Council approved $3.5 Million to use ShotSpotter in various points across the city.
But with crime a growing concern in Harris County Gonzalez said, “it’s worth a try.”