Gunshot sensors installed in Birmingham, UK

Birmingham is the first British city to install the Shotspotter Gunshot Location System, which is in use in 50 US cities. BBC News reports

The £150,000 system records an audio clip and sends police a GPS location.

The system, funded by the Home Office through Birmingham Safer Partnerships, has an 85% accuracy rate, Ch Supt Chris McKeogh said.

It can tell if multiple shots were fired, or if they were fired from a stationary or moving location, the number of weapons used and in which order they were fired, according to the manufacturers.

The system has been introduced in more than 50 US cities since 1995.

A recent article at about the Springfield, Massachusetts deployment had this to say …

Since its installation in July 2008, ShotSpotter has detected 4,158 gunshots, and contributed to 25 arrests and the seizure of 23 illegal firearms. In three instances it has alerted police to what would turn out to be homicides before the Police Department received a single 911 call.

All of this occurred in the roughly three of the city’s 32 square miles, the area covered by the ShotSpotter system.

“We’re getting spoiled by those three square miles,” said Sgt. John M. Delaney, aide to Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet. “Cops are getting used to it. It is something officers rely on.”

ShotSpotter, installed at a cost of $450,000, is designed to locate the scene of gunfire through a process called “acoustic triangulation.”

Based on these statistics, would the money have been better spent on paying for more sworn officers? Maybe some current or former LEOs can tell us what they think of the system in the comments.

[ Many thanks to Rolf for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Doug

    I’m kind of torn on your question Steve. While I’m all in favor of departments hiring more officers, the shotspotter is a great tool for cities that have a lot of gang violence.

    Current officers could be dispatched to these crime scenes or to locate the source of the shooting quickly. Hiring more officers would just mean sending more officers to the scene of the crime after 911 calls come in (if they come in).

    I am currently in LE. I believe my hometown has the shotspotter installed due to gang violence, however I haven’t heard how officers like it.

  • Doug

    Sorry, I stand corrected, I just looked up shotspotter and my home town does not have it installed. I was under the impression though that they have something like it, IDK.

    Anyway, we just need more pro-concealed carry laws so that police are processing more dead bad guys instead of dead good guys.

  • Sian

    Depends on the lifetime of the system and its ongoing costs. $450,000 up front isn’t that much if the system has good longevity and is installed in known problem areas. Training one officer alone costs close to 100,000, so in place of this system (minus maintenance and monitoring costs) you could train one additional officer and keep him for 3-4 years.

    Seems fairly cost effective to me.

  • Hogan

    $18k per arrest…

    Also, with the UK’s low gun crime (due to their bans), why do they need this? All I hear is how civilized they are because of the common sense gun restrictions.

  • Roy in Nipomo

    $450,000 would hire about 2-3 officers for one year (counting all costs associated with them). I doubt an extra officer per shift (maybe) would improve the stats that much. Also, is the half million an annual cost or just purchase price?

    Having retired from being a small town 911 dispatcher, I know that getting even an approximation of location from a single “shot heard” is nearly impossible. People in the house next door frequently don’t hear (or notice) the sound due to their own TV and ambient household noise. Someone a couple of blocks away will hear and notify the PD.

    “Shots heard”/shootings were not a problem where I worked (relatively low crime rate – 7 homicides in 35 yrs), so we had no need of such equipment. Under different circumstances, it would seem a valuable addition.

  • Phil Ward

    I would have expected Nottingham/Manchester or parts of London to have been better places to have installed this[1], rather than Birmingham. I don;t _believe_ it’s known for it’s running gun battles…

    [1] that said, I’d would also prefer that the money went on funding more coppers.

  • Joel

    Let’s see, $450,000 and 25 arrests made. Yeah, I’d say that uniforms on the street would be a better use of taxpayer money.

  • Other Steve

    Seems like a lot of money for acoustic triangulation. A few modules, synced clocks, decent microphones, doesn’t seem like it would be half a million to cover 3miles.

    …. But I thought the british fixed their gun problem by making them illegal? Surely they don’t need to spend money of a system to tell them it is impossible to shoot a gun in UK! How odd.

    Also, what 50 US cities?

  • Simon_The_Brit

    How can there be gun crime in the UK, the Government banned all handguns and self loading rifles, they had to be handed in. So why is Birmingham installing a Gunshot locater ?

    Oh hang on…….The criminals didn’t hand in their handguns and sub-machine guns did they.

    That seems to be the problem with gun control, it doesn’t ****ing work.

  • 4Cammer

    Had no idea there was such a thing. Cool. In a 1984 type of way…

  • Erik

    Those ‘results’ are what the vendor claims= probably inflated. Sounds like a boon-dongle to me.

  • Bryan S

    Wonder how long until the gaping stab wound sensors get installed?

  • Hudson

    Just some off the cuff math, $450,000 might pay for 4 officers for 1 year, divided by 3 shifts and days off, sick days = 1 more officer per shift.

  • Mountainbear

    The really ironic (sort of) thing is that some British cities have been cutting down on bobbies on the beat and replaced many of them with desk jockies.

    I’d rather see more cops on the streets with the actual rights to do their duty than having a system installed that doesn’t even crack the 1% margian between shots fired and arrests and/or illegal guns.

  • Ray

    Wow, and just to think gun control works eh? This is mearly the government treating a symptom and not a cause. Well, heres to hoping someones life gets saved by it…

  • Ladyfox

    In case anyone is curious here is a location that lists all of the cities where this is deployed:

    Myself, I’m using this as a list of places to avoid visiting though I do find it somewhat vexing that Palo Alto and SF both have these stupid things in place. Considering the amount of crying over “no money” you would think this would have been better spent on something else. -_-

  • Spikey DaPikey

    Yet more money wasted on pointless spending. If the police were allowed to do there job, instead of being stalled by red tape, they may be able to catch the damn criminals !



  • Greetings from Texas,
    Someone has to say it, the idea bothers me, it’s like the traffic cameras liberly salted around the cities of the world. I feel watched enough.

    I suppose the next step is encouraging school children to report their parents for a list of infractions, or is that last one happening again already?

  • Matt

    The only downside I can see for this besides costing money is that it will be another excuse for anti-suppressor BS.

  • brian

    What happens when the criminals get smart and start to use suppressors? I bet a can would foil the $450k sensors.

  • snufferoo

    Three square miles? If true that’s a pretty big area.

  • Nadnerbus

    It’s called substituting capital for labor. The cops have to keep getting paid year after year, plus retirement, disability, etc. The gizmos only have the upfront cost plus a much smaller upkeep/overhead.

    So some company goes to the city council or mayor or whatever, and pitches their new gizmo as a great labor saving device. “This doodad will help save you one bazillion dollars in labor hours! Does the detective work for you!” The bean counters, thoroughly schooled in this type of streamlining, seem to jump on it every time.

    Three years later, after the money has been spent, and it doesn’t really work all that well, they quietly move on to the next thing.

    Oh yeah, and usually there is some politically connected person doing the sales pitch.

    Not that all such ideas are a waste of money, just most of them.

  • Mr Maigo

    With stats that low, how do they justify spending the money? They’d be better spending it on officer education and training.

  • subase

    Pretty simple. If you want to commit a crime, have someone pop off some shots in the location to divert police attention there and not where you are.

    • subase, that is a interesting idea. Bear in mind that the average criminal has an IQ half as high as yours.

  • Brian’s Pal

    brian: “What happens when the criminals get smart and start to use suppressors? I bet a can would foil the $450k sensors.”

    Then they will start continous tracking done with microwaves, lasers and infrared scanners. Criminals could start using gas and other crude WMD’s. Well, they are already installing molecular sensing devices and licensing is a well known technique. Law abiding citiens trusting the LEO have no use for ‘bad’ molecules. But as the official thugs move to direct energy weapons the same technology will trickle down to surrounding society. I guess at that point we are in a situation when it’s a norm to carry somekind of mobile device connected to the internet which will continuosly send (tweet etc.) both location and bio data (think about the widgets). Think a about them remote control or autonomous gun platforms you all like to masturbate to while shitting on them terrorists and evil doers. The total data mass of the internet creates a database which is going to be analyzed in realtime with decentralized AI. Coming AI applications interacting with human nerve networks will amalgate into a singular cybernetic organism which traps humans to become nothing but biological robots reacting to useless sense stimulus. As AI adapts to it’s inputs so do human nerve netwrok will adapt to the AI surrounding it. Global tehnological network beats singular human brains and thus takes control of idiots running after outside stimuluses. In addition to the AI aspect the stupid masses will get their entertainment out of sheparding themselves. Big Brother, Catch a Predator etc. and the combining of the traditional media with interactive social networks. Snitch the evil racist and get few minutes of spotlight in the entertainment apparatus.

    You may research for example SemanticWeb and the coming use of AI systems in tax law and judicial proceduring.

    Here’s a random book on the issue.
    Search keywords to get a grip on the issue. Read a couple of free papers. It’s a very lively research area and there are several large scale projects in the USA and the EU. Try to imagine the future you LEO-enthustiastics, military fanboys and order fanatics are helping to build.

    It’s a ongoing technological progress and expanding that will engulf the whole humanity and you all are upholding it when you buy the latest entertainment devices or engage in artificial sense content.

  • -dsr-

    ObDisclosure: about 15 years ago, I worked for a company that currently produces a competitor to Shotspotter called Boomerang. I had nothing to do with those products, though.

    $450K is a lot of money. On the other hand, it’s about the cost of 2 officers for one year, and these systems don’t break down much and don’t need much maintenance.

    OtherSteveon: it’s not the hardware which is so expensive (though it is fairly expensive: everything has to be weatherproof against rain, snow, hail, winds, intense sunlight…) so much as the development cost of software which can reliably distinguish all sorts of handgun and long-gun shots from car door slams, dropped anvils (not kidding), badly tuned car exhausts, good solid baseball bat hits… and tell you the direction and distance as fast as a dispatch op can figure out which display to look at.

    If you’ve got a lot of gunshots in your city, you have a problem. Getting your officers there fast is part of a solution, not the whole thing, but it helps.

  • Bill

    Hmmm…very effective in combat situations from what I hear, our troops really appreciate the help in spotting snipers.

    BUT…as a standing surveillance? So what if they found 3 dead guys before they were reported, it didn’t stop them from being dead!

    And Redwood City, CA has had it since 1996?

    That’s 14 years, they should be able to give some pretty good stats on cost effectiveness.

  • I would rather see more cops that could possibly prevent crime than have even more govt monitoring of us to report crime after the fact.

    I’m sure it will be real comforting to the person shot to know that the cops will only get there 10 minutes after they are dead instead of 30.

    And as been said before, why does Birmingham, UK need this to start with, they have all those wonderful laws that prevent that from happening don’t they? I mean gun laws always work, don’t they?
    (Can you smell the sarcasm?)

  • Andrew SarchusKneilw

    The fact that they don’t claim to have actually caught any of the shooters or solved any shootings make me suspect that they are just using the system as an excuse for a little fishing. If you cordon off a couple blocks of a bad neighborhood and, frisk/ID everyone nearby 4000 odd times you’re bound to catch a few dozen with warrants and/or guns they shouldn’t have.

  • Devils Advocate

    With this device, all a criminal needs to do in order to draw the police to the other side of town so they can operate undisturbed is just ask a kid to set off some firecrackers. They are also useful if a criminal wants to draw the police into an ambush. Set off a couple of firecrackers remotely, then nail the coppers down with rifle fire. Firecrackers are better for this than cell phones, which leave a much more conspicuous trace, and require more sophistication to operate remotely.

  • Stefan F

    Get a can!

  • Stefan F

    Funny how a country as murderous as Britain, (by that I mean colonization, English Kings (Henry 8th) etc.) how far to the left they have become. They have Royals sponging of taxpayers. Rampant Islamic immigration. And ass backwards gun laws. I see the premise of the movie “V for Vendetta” being played out soon. JMHO