If a shot is fired in San Francisco and nobody is around to report it, does it still make a sound? It sure does, if the ShotStopper is involved. But turning those reports into arrests? That’s another story.

The ShotStopper is a device that employs sophisticated sound sensors to electronically monitor gunfire and accurately pinpoint its location. ShotStopper can put an officer on the scene an average of 2 minutes and 39 seconds faster than a report issued by a person. In the last 18 months San Francisco has installed sensors in Bayview, Mission, and Western Addition.

Analysis from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice found that ShotStopper reported 65 percent more instances of gunfire in Bayview and Western Addition than people. On May 30th of this year, the machine helped lead to the arrest of four subjects in the Bayview.

San Francisco first entertained the idea in 2007 after Gavin Newsom issued a press release urging the board of supervisors to release $400,000 to institute a pilot program. Newsom recently praised ShotStopper for its help in apprehending the men responsible for the May 30th shooting.

The only problem is that in its 18 months of monitoring, May 30th is the only instance in which ShotStopper has actually contributed to an arrest. In Oakland, where police have installed similar sensors, only two arrests have been made as a result of the sensors in over a year and a half. It seems the only thing faster than a report from ShotStopper is a criminal fleeing the scene.

Mikail Ali, a senior adviser in the criminal justice office, believes ShotStopper’s quicker response time could be critical to saving a gunshot victims life. Additionally, he hopes that the sensors will act as a deterrent to criminals. If not, we will have essentially spent $400,000 so that a machine can highlight our inefficiency at making arrests.

If a tree falls in the middle of the forest, it doesn’t matter who hears it if we can’t figure out who chopped it down in the first place.

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