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Mayor Ed Murray.
Mayor Ed Murray.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wants to use high-tech gunshot locators as a way to curb violence in his city.

The mayor on Thursday announced plans to implement a “gunshot detection pilot program” that uses acoustic technology to pinpoint exact locations of fired shots. The idea is to help alert police officers of potential threats more quickly and efficiently.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole speaks on Wednesday at the new SPD Real Time Crime Center. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stands in the back.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole at the SPD Real Time Crime Center this past October. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stands in the back.

“While Seattle remains a very safe city, we owe it to our young people to explore all technology tools that can save a life or take a gun off the streets,” Murray said in a statement. “We have seen gunshot locators work effectively in other cities. We will work with our neighborhoods to gauge their interest in participating in the pilot project, as we protect the privacy of all residents.”

Added Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole: “An automated gunshot detection pilot program can help our officers and detectives working to reduce gun violence in our city by improving shots fired response times and identifying shooters.”

The mayor plans to submit legislation to the City Council for the pilot project, which would be paid for with a federal grant. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has issued RFPs to departments around the country.

The Seattle skyline

The system would also include video cameras that are “activated to capture the incident,” according to the city’s press release.

Concerns about privacy have been raised with this technology, which is being used in at least 90 U.S. cities like Denver, for example.

“At almost every community meeting where I have discussed installing an acoustic gunshot locator system, I have received overwhelming positive feedback,” City Council President Bruce Harrell said in a statement. “I want to make it crystal clear we will work thoroughly with privacy advocates on the operational and data management protocols to ensure the public’s privacy and civil liberties are protected.”

The mayor also said he will work with the council to require that all surplus firearms from the police department are only sold to other law enforcement agencies.

The city reported that 144 incidents of shots fired in Seattle this year, with five people killed and another 24 injured. During the same period in 2015, there were 154 incidents of shots fired, two deaths, and 27 injuries.

The Seattle Police Department is trying to implement more technology to help keep the city safe. This past October, it opened a new high-tech crime center that features a massive mounted wall display that includes a swath of real-time information on active 911 calls separated by priority level, the location of available patrol cars, and more visual data.

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