EDITORIAL | Gunshot detection pilot is welcome

The sounds of gunfire in Seattle are becoming way too commonplace for a city playing catch-up to match its ever growing population with a police force  capable of handling increases in crime.

That’s why we whole-heartedly support the implementation of any new crime-fighting technology that can give the Seattle Police Department a boost, the latest being plans to pilot a system that ca not only detect and pinpoint gunfire, but activate cameras already in place in parts of the city to possibly catch the offending parties.

Many times a report of shots being fired in this city won’t produce any immediate results, which isn’t from a lack of effort by investigators, but the simple fact that these incidences often happen very quickly and from inside a vehicle; an officer would have to be very close to the incident to have a chance of catching up.

Mayor Ed Murray used Gun Violence Awareness Day (June 2) to announce efforts to launch an acoustic gunshot detection pilot program in the Central District and Rainier Valley, two neighborhoods that have experienced significant issues of gun violence.

This technology would be able to pinpoint where a gunshot takes place, and activate nearby cameras already used by federal law enforcement to direct officers to a more exact address than they are getting now from 911 reports. While they still might not make it to the scene in time to catch the offenders, the hope is that the cameras would catch a suspect vehicle and license plate.

The mayor’s office reports that since the beginning of the year there have been 144 incidents of shots fired reported in Seattle, five deaths and 24 injuries. There were 154 incidents in that same time period in 2015, with two deaths and 27 injuries.

Officers seized 438 guns in the first three months of 2016, which is 77 more than the department took in over the first five months in 2015.

“At almost every community meeting where I have discussed installing an acoustic gunshot locator system, I have received overwhelming positive feedback,” said Council President Bruce Harrell in the mayor’s news release. “I want to make it crystal clear we will work thoroughly with privacy advocates on the operational and data management protocols to ensure the public’s privacy and civil liberties are protected.”

Certainly there will be dissenters concerned that these cameras will be activated outside of incidences of gunfire, but Murray has already stated this won’t be the case; this technology that exists in other major cities knows the difference between a car backfiring and a gunshot. What other agencies with access to these cameras do with them might be another story.

The mayor’s office is also drafting legislation that will require surplus SPD firearms to only be sold to another law enforcement agency, which seems like common sense; it’s odd that such a rule isn’t already on the books. Current policy is that a service weapon can’t be resold in the state of Washington.

The resolution will also require the city to only purchase firearms and ammunition from dealers that take steps to reduce gun violence and fully comply with all federal and state laws. We should hope they’re buying guns and ammo locally, if only to support these complacent gun store owners upset about the city’s gun violence tax approved in August.

This tax requires dealers to pay $25 for every firearm sold and 2-5 cents per round of ammunition sold, depending on the caliber of bullet.

With the amount of gun violence this city is facing, this additional revenue should help with research and prevention, which would be music to our ears — far more than another gunshot.