Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) toured the communications center for Richmond’s gunshot detection system Wednesday to get a closer look at a program he secured federal dollars to fund.
Miller met with Richmond and San Pablo police leaders and toured the small building for about one hour. His focus was “Shotspotter,” the detection technology that Richmond and San Pablo police use to pinpoint and respond to firearm discharges in the city. Miller has secured $960,000 in earmarks for the system, which comprises gunshot detection centers throughout Richmond and San Pablo.
“Now don’t get nervous,” Miller said, chuckling, as he entered the command center on 27th Street. About a dozen staff members looked up from their monitors.
Miller peppered the police brass and civilian specialists with a range of questions concerning the technology’s efficacy and its popularity with residents.
“What are the holes in the system?” Miller asked after listening to a lengthy recitation of the technology’s virtues. “If I could get more money, what would you need?”
“For us, it comes down to coverage,” said Richmond Deputy Police Chief Ed Medina. “North Richmond is still uncovered.”
But police and civilian workers spent most of the time Wednesday praising Shotspotter for providing pinpoint, real-time data and improving response times.
“(Shooters) know we’re going to get there a lot faster,” Medina told Miller.
At times, the Congressman seemed taken aback by how common gunfire was in the community. He related to the small semi-circle of law enforcement officials and aides that the Shotspotter computer screens were not dissimilar from what he saw on a recent trip to the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where he watched intelligence officials monitor surveillance feeds.
“How many gunshots do you get in 24 hours?” Miller asked.
“It’s not uncommon to get 15 or 20 in a day,” said Byron Baptiste, the center’s communications manager. Miller stroked his chin for several seconds and grimaced faintly.
“The constant shooting has an impact on the community,” Miller said. “Eradicating this is a priority.”
The Richmond and San Pablo police leaders on hand, including San Pablo Police Chief Walter Schuld, stressed what they said was the Shotspotter’s sharp accuracy, immediacy, and support from community members.
When asked by Miller what the reception has been in the community to the introduction of this surveillance equipment, Schuld said, “Positive, very positive.”
Richmond’s Shotspotter has been in place since 2009, while San Pablo’s system came online in April.
Since April, San Pablo has experience two fewer assaults with firearms compared to the same period last year, and made at least one arrest in a shooting thanks to Shotspotter reporting, according to a department press release.
But for all the raves about the system, Miller’s visit comes on the heels of the Richmond’s deadliest month in more than two years. Nine homicides rocked the city in July, along with one other killing in an unincorporated pocket of North Richmond. There have been 24 homicides in Richmond and three in unincorporated North Richmond this year, a total that already surpasses that of 2010. In most cases no arrests have been made.
Neither Medina nor Baptiste could credit Shotspotter with leading to any arrests in connection with any of the two-dozen homicides this year.
During a session with reporters at the end of his visit, Miller said he was confident in the program’s value.
“The program is working, but it is a reactive system,” Miller said. “You still need human intelligence and human cooperation” to apprehend suspects and reduce crime. Miller added that the shot detection system “builds additional confidence in the community that the police are doing all they can.”
Miller also praised Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus for establishing a department-wide emphasis on strengthening community relations with law enforcement.
Miller, a Democrat who has represented the 7th Congressional district since 1975, visited Richmond as part of a weeklong schedule of events in Contra Costa and Solano Counties. Miller is scheduled to headline an economic forum in Walnut Creek Thursday titled “Make it in America: Export to the World.”