Officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department investigate a double shooting on Longview Drive near the intersection with Argonne Boulevard.

The Winston-Salem Police Department will purchase gunshot detection technology, allowing police to monitor 3 square miles in the city for gunfire.

The gunshot detection system is made up of an array of sensors installed in an area of the city. It will detect noises that equate to gunfire and triangulate the location where the shots originated, according to Lt. John Leone of the Winston-Salem Police Department.

A grant of nearly $700,000 from the U.S. Justice Department will pay for the system for three years, according to police Lt. Gregory Dorn.

It’s not clear where the sensors will be located in Winston-Salem, and police have been mum about the exact methodology the department will use to deploy the system. Leone said that the placement decision will be data-driven and that the department will work with technology vendors to deploy the sensors most effectively.

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Dorn said vendors and Justice Department representatives will evaluate potential sites before making a decision.

The announcement comes on the heels of an approximately 50% rise in gun violence in Winston-Salem over the past four years, according to police statistics.

So far in 2019, police have received 1,708 calls reporting gunshots, according to data obtained by the Winston-Salem Journal. Since July 1, at least 68 shootings have taken place in the city, with six people killed and 21 injured.

It is possible there have been more than 68 shootings since July 1 — police have received 654 calls reporting gunshots in the same time span — but about 80% of “gunshot incidents” go unreported, according to a 2016 study by the Urban Institute, a research group based in Washington.

In an ideal scenario, the gunshot detection system would work to deter shootings from ever happening to begin with, Dorn said. At the very least, the technology should rapidly improve police response time.

As it stands, the average 911 caller waits between 3 and 4 minutes after a shooting before dialing the phone, according to Dorn. Gunshot detection technology would notify police officers within seconds, sending a notification to their cellphones or patrol car laptops.

“It could help save lives,” Dorn said.

He called the technology plug-and-play in terms of integration.

Realistically, police would not be able to implement the technology until February or March at the earliest. The city must go through the bidding process, choose a vendor, install the technology and integrate it with its 911 dispatching technology, according to police.

Some vendors, Leone said, will install the hardware for police.

“Some of the vendors will utilize some of the infrastructure in place, and some vendors will negotiate with businesses and homeowners to install (hardware) on their structures,” he said.

With any government-sponsored installation of monitoring devices come privacy concerns. Leone and Dorn said, to their knowledge, the sensors detect only gunfire or noise closely associated with it.

“When they detect noise ... the only noise that gets reported to us is actual gunfire,” Leone said. “It’s not we’re listening into phone calls or what’s going on your street.”

Should the gunshot detection system prove effective after the three years, it will be up to the city of Winston-Salem to decide whether it wants to continue with it and pay for the monitoring service, according to police.

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