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Gunshot or fireworks? ShotSpotter is helping law enforcement figure that out

With more people setting off fireworks leading up to the Fourth of July, law enforcement has a tool that helps determine whether the sounds are fireworks or gunshots
Credit: Alik Mulikov - stock.adobe.com
Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With people across the Sacramento area getting ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, more fireworks are starting to go off than people are used to. It can even be hard to tell if they actually are fireworks.

That's where ShotSpotter comes in. ShotSpotter is a microphone system that is placed across a city that detects noises like fireworks and gunshots and tells law enforcement the difference.

The Sacramento Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office have partnered with them to use the technology to tell the difference. In the last four years, both agencies have expanded the use of ShotSpotter to all across the city and county instead of just specific locations.

"What those microphones do is they pick up the sound, whether it be a firecracker or a gunshot, and triangulates it and is able to pinpoint it," said Sgt. Rod Grassmann, spokesperson for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office.

The person listening to the sounds is not an average person but a ballistics expert. They are able to detect if the sound is a firework or gunfire, and they relay it to the communications center in less than a minute.

"It is hard for just the naked ear to tell every time and get it right. The ShotSpotter folks, they do get it right because they're also using acoustic equipment in conjunction with the expert listening to be able to determine," Grassmann said.

Since implementing the system, law enforcement has been able to be dispatched within a minute to where gunshots were heard, according to Grassmann. He said that before using it, they would have to wait for someone to call in and it would take around five minutes to get someone out.

"If it is gunfire, we are able to pick up how many shooters are involved and if it was automatic," Grassmann said. "And ShotSpotter is able to tell us the exact location within 25 meters."

Both the sheriff's office and police are using the system, but if people are unsure if what they are hearing are fireworks or gunshots, Officer Karl Chan with the Sacramento Police Department said that people are still encouraged to call police so that officers can respond if they need to.

Chan also said that the fire department will handle a lot of the citations for illegal fireworks and will likely be dispatched to those locations.

Sheriff's deputies will also be patrolling with Sacramento Metro Fire investigators during this time, both before and after the Fourth of July, to curb illegal fireworks usage.

Grassmann wanted to make sure people know that even the 'Safe & Sane' fireworks are illegal after the Fourth of July.

WATCH MORE FROM ABC10: Illegal Fireworks | How much you could be fined if caught using them

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