City of Miami

Miami Commission to consider shot-detection system, banning Ultra


The City Commission will consider approving a one-year trial for a technology that detects gunfire and dispatches police to the scene.

The Ultra Music Festival opened Friday, March 28, 2014 at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
The Ultra Music Festival opened Friday, March 28, 2014 at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.

When gunshots go off, Miami police rely on the public to call 911 and report that shots were fired.

In high-crime neighborhoods where the sounds of gunfire can be a regular occurrence, police are not always notified.

The ShotSpotter Flex Gunfire Locator, an acoustic system that locates gunfire and dispatches police officers to that exact location, could become a silent witness and tool for Miami’s police department, but first city commissioners have to sign off on it.

The gunfire detection system has been credited with reducing bloodshed on the streets of Baghdad. Nationwide, 35 cities employ the technology, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Locally, Miami Gardens and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office use the monitors to detect gunfire.

The cost for a one-year trial of the program in Miami is $275,000, most of which will be paid from the city’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, money seized from criminals.

It is unclear where police would install the technology. Miami police did not respond to requests for comment.

The high-tech system cannot prevent shootings from happening, but once they do occur, the California-based company that makes the technology said it provides law enforcement with advanced capabilities to respond to violent crimes.

“There is no single panacea to reducing gun violence itself. It's our belief that gunfire alert and location technology is most effective when it is a critical component in a comprehensive gun violence reduction initiative,” wrote ShotSpotter spokeswoman Lydia Barrett, in an email.

This is how the technology would work:

Once shots are fired, the audio sensor system, usually installed on rooftops or light poles, sends an alert within two to three seconds to a Northern California call center. The alert would contain the number of shots fired, location, audio of the gunshots, and whether the shots were fired from a car or a person running down the street. An audio expert reviews the alert and rules out any false alarms before sending it to Miami police to dispatch an officer.

The entire verification process takes about a minute, wrote Barrett, who added a typical 911 call and dispatch can take up to seven minutes and the information from callers is usually limited.

Miami commissioners will consider funding the ShotSpotter program at the commission meeting Thursday.

Also on the agenda is an item what would prohibit the popular Ultra Music Festival from hosting future concerts at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.

The item, sponsored by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, comes in response to the trampling of a security guard at Ultra on opening day, March 28. Ericka Mack was staffing a section of a chain-link fence when ticketless concert crashers pushed their way through the fence, running over her.

The 28-year-old guard remains at Jackson Memorial Hospital. According to her attorney, Eric Isicoff, Mack suffered a skull fracture and a leg broken in two places. Mack underwent surgery on her leg Wednesday morning, Isicoff said.

Plans originally submitted to the city by Ultra show the area where Mack was injured was supposed to have a stronger fence that was never installed. Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa has said that his officers warned Ultra before they opened to the public that the fence at that exact location needed to be beefed up.

Sarnoff and Mayor Tomás Regalado believe Ultra organizers breached their contract with the city by failing to put up a more secure fence as stated in their plans.

Ultra organizers have said that the festival will undertake a comprehensive review of its security procedures.

A petition on urges Ultra supporters to ask Miami’s elected officials to “keep Ultra Music Festival in Miami.” So far the petition has 21,000 signatures out of a goal of 50,000.

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