Using Technology to Combat Gun Crime: An Interview with ShotSpotter’s John Risenhoover

Technology can not only help Law Enforcement Agencies solve gun crimes faster, but help officers identify patterns, allocate resources more strategically, and address gun-related activity smarter and more efficiently.

We spoke with ShotSpotter’s John Risenhoover to learn more about this cutting edge technology that gets criminals off the street and makes neighborhoods safer.


Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Let’s start with the basics: What exactly is ShotSpotter and how does that help law enforcement agencies to solve gun crime?

John Risenhoover: ShotSpotter is an Acoustic Gunfire Detection system.  By utilizing sensors, patented technology and a team of experts to review incidents, ShotSpotter is able to locate gunfire within 25 meters in approximately 30 to 45 seconds.  This allows law enforcement to rapidly deploy officers to the exact location of gunfire and rescue victims, locate suspects, recover evidence and connection with the community. This also allows us to recover shell casings at crime scenes more effectively and then feed them into NIBIN program.  The end result is identifying criminal shooters faster than ever before with the goal of stopping him before he recommits.


JCH: What are the statistics around gun fire? How big of an issue are just “random” or unreported shots fired? How big of an issue is this… and perhaps most importantly, how can it be solved? 

John: Based on a study:

  • Only 20% of shootings are reported to 911.
  • When they are reported, it is usually 4 to 7 minutes later.
  • To matters worse, instead of providing an exact location, the caller is usually approximately 960 feet away from the actual incident.  This means officers are unable to respond to the location of the incident.

For the past thirty years, most officers viewed Shots Fired Calls as a problem because they weren’t receiving the information needed to respond to the actual location.  This resulted in law enforcement action rarely being taken.  Since 80% of the time police weren’t notified and when they were, it was a 1/4 mile away, many citizens assumed that Police didn’t show up at the actual location of the shooting because they don’t care.

By providing law enforcement an exact location of a criminal shooting, police can quickly respond to the scene, locate victims, witnesses and suspects, recover evidence (shell casings) and engage the community that didn’t think the police really cared.  This allows police to build trust with the community and identify criminal shooters before they recommit.  Simply put, by responding to every shooting, police can identify Billy the Kid and stop him before he recommits.  The goal shouldn’t be to just solve homicides, but prevent homicides.  Using ShotSpotter and NIBIN, we can accomplish this goal.


JCH: One of our ongoing webinar series is about Mass Casualty Shootings and Emergency Response. How have you seen ShotSpotter implemented to help keep public buildings, such as schools, college campuses or malls safer?

John: We recently saw the shooting in Fresno California in which an individual went on a shooting rampage killing three people.  Before anyone even called into 911 to report the incidents, police had been notified by ShotSpotter and responded to the scene and arresting the suspect before he could shoot anyone else.


JCH: We often focus on Gun Crime from the public safety side of things – someone is hurt or killed. But even just shots being fired can have a damaging effect on communities… Isn’t that right?

John: Many of the children living in areas of Chicago are experiencing PTSD – much like soldiers’ experience in combat.  The only difference is these children never get to go home to get away from the violence.

We also see the economic cost of a homicide investigation can easily exceed $1,000,000.  The overall impact to the community can exceed $10,000,000.

Much of this has been documented by Dr. Craig Uchida and Andrew Papachristos.


JCH:  What do you think the biggest myths or misunderstandings law enforcement might have about what technologies like ShotSpotter can (or can’t) do?

John: ShotSpotter can’t listen into houses or cars.  It can’t record conversations.  What it can provide is exact locations when gunshots occur outside. It can also distinguish between gunfire and other loud noises like fireworks.  ShotSpotter technology prevents officers from being sent on false alarms.


JCH: Some of our members will likely not have technology like yours. Putting an advisory “hat” on for the moment, how would you advise them to get started building the case for implementing technological solutions to helping them fight gun crime  – especially if funding is limited and staff are stretched thin?

John: The first key to combating gun violence is to start with a zero tolerance.  Letting the at-risk community know that you take gun violence seriously is crucial.  Too often, we value the wrong things in law enforcement.  Prosecutions or public safety.  No one in the community likes Billy the Kid, but they might turn a blind eye to the young man selling weed to survive.  By establishing a strategy utilizing officers, technology, and a smooth process, we can achieve Forensic Led Policing.  Almost everything we do in a crime lab can be accomplished in 24 to 48 hours.    Instead of “when’s your trial?” we can move to Forensics leading our investigations and stop Billy the Kid before he recommits.


To learn more about how law enforcement can use technology to combat Gun Crime, visit our Feature Page: Gun Crime Investigations





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