Portsmouth police chief says ShotSpotter technology could soon help ‘show the public we do actually care’

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth could be the latest community in Hampton Roads to use gunshot detection technology to help combat gun violence.

In a presentation to City Council Tuesday evening, representatives from ShotSpotter outlined how they believe their product could benefit the city by getting officers to the scenes of violent crime faster.

In turn, it would rebuild trust between the community and the police department.

Portsmouth recorded a record high of 35 homicides in 2021, overtaking the previous high of 34 set in 2020.

While the trend mirrors an increase in violent crime seen across the country, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Portsmouth City Council meetings have been regularly filled with family members of homicide victims demanding more action from city leadership.

In 2020, only half of the homicides were cleared, according to the police department’s annual report, and the city has been dealing with ongoing officer shortages. As of August, the department was short 80 officers.

“This is a piece that could help us turn the tide,” Chief Renado Prince said following the presentation. “It’s a force multiplier.”

ShotSpotter works by placing sensors on top of buildings. The sensors are programmed to detect the sound of gunfire and use GPS technology to pinpoint the origin of the shot and notify the police within 60 seconds.

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The technology is already being used in both Virginia Beach and Newport News. Chiefs in both cities have raved about its effectiveness. Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate highlighted an arrest made because of the technology on Monday, while also highlighting a decrease in crime in the city.

National statistics indicate that less than 20% of all ShotSpotter activations also have a corresponding 911 call. ShotSpotter representatives said that allows criminals to become emboldened and leads community members to believe police don’t care.

Prince said he thinks that is exactly what is going on in Portsmouth.

“People hear the shots. But they don’t see the police,” Prince said. “The truth is, we don’t know.”

He said ShotSpotter could help police arrive at the scene and either find a suspect before they leave the area, or save a life if a victim is on the scene bleeding out.

No action was taken by City Council Tuesday but no council members appeared opposed to the technology.

Prince said he doesn’t know how much it will cost but believes it will pay for itself. He wishes it was installed “yesterday.”

“Once it’s known, people will think ‘Shotspotter — they are going to know where I am at.’ Now people are pulling the trigger with no repercussions because we don’t know,” Prince said. “These things are positive for the police department and the City of Portsmouth.”