Mayor Carter Urged to Reconsider Technology to Curb St. Paul Gun Violence

The soaring incidences of carjackings, shootings, and violent crime in Minneapolis has received much-deserved media attention both locally and nationally. But St. Paul also faces an outbreak of violence and gunplay citywide that threatens to overwhelm the authorities’ capabilities to effectively protect and serve the public.

Former Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association executive director Dennis Flaherty laid bare the dire situation on too many St. Paul streets and neighborhoods in the Pioneer Press.

With calls reported to the police of gunshots fired up 110% from last year and the number of people shot increased by 30%, it does not take a criminologist to declare we have a problem. Not to mention we have had 33 murders year to date, most involving firearms, just two away from breaking the record for the most ever. And just a few days ago a 2-year-old died from a gunshot.

Some nights our officers go from one call of “shots fired” to another. Unfortunately, they either find a victim who has been shot or, in many cases, an area where those discharging weapons are long gone. Keep in mind that, nationally, only about 20% of gun discharges are even reported, and then often there is a delay in the call to the police and the exact location is vague.

Like Minneapolis, the city of St. Paul also faces a shortage of police officers. But unlike Minneapolis, the besieged Capitol City has not adopted a gunfire detection system called ShotSpotter that police in more than 100 cities use to respond faster and more effectively to gun violence.

…Made simple, it involves the use of acoustic sensors, strategically mounted on high structures such as streetlights or power poles, that automatically detect and verify gunshot noise and notify police of the exact location of the firearm discharge.

In fact, the technology is so sophisticated that it can determine the number of rounds discharged, if there are multiple shooters and even distinguish whether semi-automatic weapons were in use. This info is immediately provided to police in less than 60 seconds. This information would allow police to respond faster and directly, which might help them save the life of a gunshot victim or find witnesses or gather evidence that could lead to more arrests and take more guns off the streets. Equally important, it provides for the safety of our officers as they would know what they are up against.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter previously rejected the technology. But Flaherty makes the case that Carter must reconsider his position given the surge in violence and the experience of other cities.

You might recall that it was about a year ago that St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell had wanted the city to lease a ShotSpotter system, but was unable to convince Mayor Carter of its benefits. The mayor indicated then he was not convinced of its efficacy and was unwilling to follow the chief’s lead. So here we are, certainly worse off than where we were then and feeling even more vulnerable.

The gunfire detection system offers an opportunity to a mayor who until now has shown more interest in undermining, rather than bolstering, St. Paul’s police  force.