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Pittsfield Police Chief Wants to Expand Use of ShotSpotter

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police Chief Michael Wynn says he'd like to expand the use of ShotSpotter.
 
The chief briefed the council's Public Health and Safety Committee on Monday on the effectiveness of the gunshot detection system, saying it has improved response time, investigations, and revealed a number of shootings officer wouldn't have known about at all.
 
"We are going to where the gunfire occurred, not to where the witness thought it was coming from," Wynn said of responsiveness of officers.
 
In a three-square-mile area encompassing downtown, the West Side, and the Morningside neighborhoods, acoustic detectors have been installed to identify gunshots. When something sounds like a gunshot is picked up by multiple detectors, the recording of the sound is verified by ShotSpotter and then the location is sent to the dispatch center, cruisers, and even department-issued cell phones officers carry. Wynn praised the accuracy of the locations.
 
Wynn said there have been 11,000 hits overall on the detectors since March 29, 2017, when the system went live but the vast majority of those were not verified. There were 244 activations that were reported to officers on the beat, 54 of those were actual gunshots. 
 
Wynn said that while 137 false positives are a lot, much of those came during the early months when the system was still being fine-tuned. 
 
"When we went live, the foliage filled in and the accuracy deteriorated dramatically," the chief said.
 
Also, for a short period of time, officers weren't communicating the false positives to ShotSpotter, which helps the company tune the sensors. But the more important number for Wynn is 16. 
 
The chief said there have been 65 gunfire incidents since ShotSpotter was activated and 16 of those were not reported by citizens. Thirty-eight were both ShotSpotter and citizen calls and 11 were just citizen calls.
 
"That means 25 percent of the time we would not have known there was gunfire in the city of Pittsfield had we not installed ShotSpotter," Wynn said.
 
Prior, Wynn estimated a range of 3 percent to 8 percent of unreported gunfire incidents and ShotSpotter revealed that to be a larger number. 
 
"As a direct result of the ShotSpotter activations there has been five on-scene arrests," Wynn said.
 
The chief said seven others were arrested at shooting scenes for charges other than the shooting, nine weapons were seized, and that 211 shell casings and 60 projectiles were recovered.
 
Wynn said the shell casings are entered into the national ballistics system and can be used for investigations. 
 
"I don't know if we can estimate the actual value of that," he said of the investigative benefits of the system.
 
ShotSpotter can also provide data on other noises in real time to investigating officers such as possible vehicles or voices. Wynn said twice that data was asked for and received on the spot. The company will also provide a detailed analysis of it including such things are time-stamping the sounds and sequencing of shots. If those are challenged in court, the chief said ShotSpotter will send an acoustic specialist to court to testify.
 
"The amount of detail is amazing," he said.
 
The city contracted with ShotSpotter for three years for a total cost of $595,000. Private donations, especially an initial $300,000 from Berkshire Health Systems, account for $395,000 of that total.
 
"We still owe ShotSpotter $200,000 for the contract we are under," Wynn said.
 
Wynn said the pursuit of grants and other private donations is still ongoing but the balance is likely going to be in his budget. He would like to see the system expanded and figuring out how to pay for not only continuation of the current area but additional services is the next step.

Tags: Pittsfield Police,   shooting,   

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Pittsfield Superintendent Seeking New Opportunities

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Superintendent of Schools Jason "Jake" McCandless is actively seeking new opportunities and may leave the Pittsfield Public Schools. 
 
After McCandless' evaluation by the School Committee on Wednesday, he confirmed that he is a finalist for the superintendent's position of the Silver Lake Regional School District in Kingston, just north of Plymouth.
 
"It simply feels in my gut like it is a good time to make a change," McCandless said.
 
McCandless came to Pittsfield in 2013 after being in Lee for 11 years, eight of those as superintendent and three as principal. He came to Lee after three years as an assistant principal in Virginia. 
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